At the time of writing, Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered an escalation of Israel’s current assault on the Gaza Strip, ordering his troops to “significantly widen” their ground offensive. This latest round of violence is rightly considered to be as futile as it was predictable. When a ceasefire is eventually agreed upon nothing productive will have been achieved. Ordinary Israelis will be no more secure and the beleaguered and long-suffering Palestinians of the Gaza Strip will be fewer in number and their humanitarian catastrophe will have been significantly worsened.
It is twenty years since the Oslo Accords and it would seem we are further away from peace than ever before. An entire generation of young Palestinians – the Oslo generation – have grown up to witness a worsening situation on the ground. There has been a significant expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, heightened security threats to both sides, the construction of an illegal separation barrier, punitive restrictions on Palestinian movement, economic decline, and a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. This can only be seen as a failure of the international community and the collapse of the Kerry-led peace talks has exposed the inadequacy of current efforts to achieve peace and security.
An immediate and unequivocal ceasefire must be reached to halt the bloodshed which is almost solely Palestinian and overwhelming civilian. But the pattern of “ceasefire and forget”should not be repeated. This opportunity must be seized to maximise diplomatic pressure on all parties to alter the fundamentals of the conflict. A ceasefire will allow Israelis to return to normality, but for Palestinians it will only mean return to their daily struggle for survival under a long-lasting and brutal military occupation. The illegal Israeli blockade forces the people of Gaza to endure a stark humanitarian crisis that the UN predicts will make the Strip unlivable by 2020, while Palestinians in the West Bank are seeing their dream of, and right to, statehood disappear, brick by brick, with the construction of every illegal Israeli settlement.
A paradigm shift in the international community is needed. A new approach to diplomacy must be based on the protection of civilians, equal respect for the human rights, security and sovereignty of both Israelis and Palestinians, and the actual respect of – rather than just rhetoric on – international law. Focusing exclusively on negotiations, whilst failing to hold Israel accountable for their human rights violations and annexation of Palestinian land, is not enough.
The UK must be honest brokers for peace and employ practical measures to to tackle the root cause of the conflict. This must include the end to UK arms, or arms components, being used in attacks on Gaza; demanding an end to the blockade on Gaza along with a complete freeze on illegal settlement growth; ending trade and investment with illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank; and supporting a phased approach to end the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. We must support international mediation with a larger role for the EU so it becomes more of a player than simply a payer. Most importantly, we should set out clear parameters, targets and consequences for failure to end violations and make progress, including sanctions.
This is a tipping point for the Middle East. The UK was an architect of the current conflict and has been instrumental in sustaining the unacceptable injustices forced upon the Palestinian people, but now is the time for our Government to act in accordance with the overwhelming consensus of the international community and support the realisation of peace and justice in the Middle East.
Grahame Morris is Labour MP for Easington and chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East