We all want to see peace in the Middle East but, as I said in the House of Commons at Prime Minister’s questions on November 22:
“Setting our strategic aims requires us to be precise about the terms we use. That includes the word ‘peace’. Peace is not just the absence of war or conflict, but the freedom from fear of conflict, oppression, or terror. Peace requires mutual respect, freedom from persecution, and living without fear of destitution. It comes with self-determination and liberation from arbitrary justice. It needs hope and dignity and enforceable rights. Only when all the people in the Middle East share in all these things can we claim that peace has been achieved.”
For Israel, this means the right to live without fear of attack from those who want to extinguish Israel’s right to exist, whether this is Hamas or their paymasters in Iran. Israel also has a right to pursue those who, without provocation, carried out barbaric attacks on their citizens, including the murder and kidnap of 240 men, women and children.
In doing so, however, all must be done to minimise civilian casualties, something that so far has not happened.
For the Palestinians, there needs to be genuine progress to a two-state solution where they can enjoy self-determination and security. The perpetual stating of support for this idea cannot be allowed to become an alternative to genuine progress. Failure to move forward risks radicalising a whole generation with long-term security implications for the whole region.
I welcome pauses in the conflict to allow aid and vital humanitarian supplies to reach the people of Gaza, but there can be no permanent ceasefire as long as the hostages remain in Gaza and until those responsible for the attacks on Israeli citizens, which provoked this crisis, are brought to justice.
While it is understandable that Israel wants to completely destroy Hamas, whose aim is to see the entire removal of the Israeli state, we must be alive to the practicalities of such a policy. Hamas is a mindset as well as a terrorist organisation and only a political settlement in the long term can remove the extremists from the equation.
There will ultimately need to be an agreement, probably underwritten by the international community, that produces self-government for Gaza and the West Bank, the opportunity to rebuild infrastructure (both physical and political), and that creates a secure future for both the Palestinians and Israelis alike.
As chairman of the UK Abraham Accords Group, I recently attended the Manama Security Dialogue in Bahrain, where it was clear that there was a good deal of international willingness to help achieve this outcome. I hope that the United Kingdom, which would profit from any peace dividend in the Middle East, will play our full part in the search for a genuine peace.