Gaza ceasefire

I welcome the announcement by Hamas that it is suspending its military action for a week. This follows the announcement by Israel last night of its unilateral ceasefire. There must now be an intensive effort to make these ceasefires permanent, to get a rapid total Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza where the people have suffered so much , especially innocent children.

But unilateral action is not the long term solution that is needed. There should be early agreement on a comprehensive settlement which would establish a viable Palestinian State in both the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in East Jerusalem. It should include withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories. There must be a secure Israel in internationally recognised borders and at peace with all its Arab neighbours including Syria and Lebanon as well as Egypt and Jordan. The agreement will also need to resolve other difficult issues including the current divisions within Palestinian politics, the plight of the Palestinian refugees and compensate the victims of the conflict on both sides. As I told Parliament in the debate last Thursday “We hope that when President Obama comes to office on Tuesday, he can make a difference, but let us not be misled. He is not a miracle worker. It will take sustained engagement—sustained engagement by the United States, unlike the disasters of the past eight years, when there has been sporadic engagement from time to time.

We will also have to make sure that the Arab world takes a more responsible attitude to a solution to the conflict. We need a comprehensive agreement between Israel and its neighbours. We need a two-state solution. Reference has already been made to Syria, and Egypt has a key role in providing the guarantees for security to allow the opening up of Gaza for trade with Israel and with Egypt—the opening up of those borders, but the prevention of the weapons coming in.”

The last three weeks have caused great anger and dismay around the world. We must now work rapidly for a comprehensive solution to this festering conflict.

18 January 2009


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