Gaza ceasefire now

I have received dozens of emails and telephone calls from constituents concerned about the appalling situation in Gaza. I share their concerns about the large loss of civilian life and destruction being caused as a result of the Israeli bombing which although aimed at Hamas headquarters and military facilities will inevitably result in widespread damage and death in a densely populated urban area. I also oppose the destruction and loss of life caused by Hamas missile attacks on Israeli towns and villages.

Although under international law every state has a right to defend itself against attack, the Israeli response over the last four days to the increasing missile and rocket attacks on Southern Israel from Gaza since Hamas withdrew from the ceasefire two weeks ago, has in my opinion been disproportionate.

There should be an immediate halt to all military action by both Israel and Hamas and restoration of a mutual ceasefire. This should be followed by renewed and intensified efforts in negotiations between a representative Palestinian delegation led by President Abbas and representatives of the Israeli Government. The international community has a key role to play here. I welcome the statements by the British Government, and the “Quartet” of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia calling for a ceasefire. I also welcome the efforts of the League of Arab States to take forward their peace plan first set out by Saudi Arabia in 2002.

The aim 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.

Such an agreement will require a change of approach by both Israel and the Palestinians. As I stated in a debate in the House of Commons on January 24th 2008 in introducing the eighth report of 2006/07 of the Foreign Affairs Committee, published on 13 August 2007 “to have a viable and contiguous Palestinian state we need to address the problems of Gaza. We know, because we see it on our televisions and in our newspapers every day, that the situation in Gaza is extremely difficult at present……. what are we to do about the 1.5 million people living in Gaza who are in such a desperate situation? The Committees recommendation was thought controversial not only by the Israelis but also by the Palestinian leadership. We said that we had to find ways to engage with moderate elements in the Islamist Hamas movement to move them towards endorsing and agreeing the Quartet principles of non-violence, recognition of previous agreements and recognition of the state of Israel. “

I first called for engagement with representatives of Hamas 18 months ago and that remains my position today.

Parliament is currently in recess but I will continue to raise this matter publicly both now and when the House returns next month.

posted 31 December 2008



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