LFI chair Steve McCabe MP has written the below article for LabourList. Click here to read the original.
Some calls for a ceasefire in Gaza are understandable and I share the sentiment that lies behind them.
Witnessing the dire humanitarian situation on our TV screens is heartbreaking. That’s why Labour Friends of Israel has consistently argued measures to protect Palestinian civilians and provide humanitarian assistance – including food, water and medicine and safe routes – are essential.
These measures remain urgent and must be redoubled so that, as Keir Starmer has repeatedly argued, regular, fast and safe deliveries of aid reach those who need them.
LFI fully supports US secretary of state Anthony Blinken’s call on Wednesday for humanitarian pauses to be considered to achieve these vital goals – a call which Keir has backed.
From the outset of the conflict, LFI has made clear that Israel, like any democracy engaged in conflict, has a responsibility to minimise civilian casualties.
We must also recognise that it is Hamas which poses the greatest threat to the Palestinian people. It is Hamas which uses innocent Palestinians as human shields – cowardly sheltering behind and among the population to store and launch its arsenal of rockets.
And it is Hamas which is at the root of the humanitarian situation in Gaza. For 16 years, it has repeatedly and consistently prioritised its genocidal war against Israel over the Palestinian people’s welfare, security and their legitimate right to self-determination.
Even now, Hamas has made its choices clear. Over the past two weeks, it has launched more than 7,000 rockets indiscriminately at the Jewish state (contributing, with Hezbollah, to the displacement of 200,000 Israelis from their homes).
That’s more than they fired at Israel during the entire 50-day 2014 war. Those rockets don’t power themselves: at a time when Gazan hospitals are short of fuel, Hamas is sitting on a fuel reserve of 1 million litres and refusing to distribute its hoard to facilities in need.
Proponents of a ceasefire present it as a choice between war and peace. They are wrong. A ceasefire which leaves Hamas in power, with its massive haul of armaments intact, is a recipe for endless war and terror for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
This is a prediction based on the evidence of Hamas’ malign impact over the past three decades. Let’s not forget that Hamas’ response to the Oslo Accords was to unleash its suicide bombers to upend Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres’ efforts to broker a lasting peace with the Palestinians. Every time there’s been an opportunity for peace, including when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton attempted to restart the stalled negotiations in 2010, Hamas responded with violence and terror.
The appalling events of 7 October were clearly designed, at the behest and with the encouragement of their paymasters in Tehran, to derail the Abraham Accords. The only difference this time was the sheer scale and barbarity of Hamas’ murderous rampage through southern Israel, which left over 1,400 men, women and children dead and more than 220 taken hostage.
Hamas could have used its seizure of power in Gaza in 2007 to assume the responsibilities of governing the Strip and, perhaps over time, reach an accommodation with Israel. Other terrorist groups elsewhere have followed such a path. But, instead, Hamas chose to use Gaza simply as a launching pad for attacks on Israel.
In 2005, the year Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, there were 179 rocket attacks from Gaza; by 2008, that number had surged to more than 2,000. Four times in the past 16 years, Hamas has forced Israel into a war of self-defence: the price of which hasn’t been paid by Hamas. Its leader, Ismail Haniyeh, has been estimated to be worth about $4bn and lives in luxury in Qatar, but instead by innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians.
Crucially, Hamas has viewed every previous ceasefire simply as an opportunity to restock, regroup, replenish its forces, and prepare for its next assault. There is simply no long-term solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians which can accommodate the murderous antisemitic ideology of Hamas. Hamas wants only to drive the Jews from Israel and impose an authoritarian Islamist state from the river to the sea.
We should consider whether we as a country would be willing to accept the continuing existence of a terrorist entity on our borders which had just massacred 10,000 Britons – the equivalent per population figure – after 30 years of ever-increasing attacks? Would we not demand, as the Israeli people are understandably doing, that our government protect us and our children by removing that danger?
Israel thus has a right under international law and a duty to defend its people and eliminate the threat posed by Hamas. A ceasefire at this point would not achieve that critical goal.
I believe that there is a path to a ceasefire: one that will end the humanitarian crisis and protect innocent Palestinian and Israeli lives. It involves Hamas taking three simple steps: release all the hostages immediately and unconditionally; hand over to Israel for trial all those who planned and participated in the 7 October massacre; and allow an international Arab-led force to enter Gaza, oversee Hamas’ disarmament and the destruction of its 500km-long terror tunnel network, and prepare the ground for the return of the Palestinian Authority.
Beyond Gaza, the demise of Hamas will open roads that have been closed off for too long. As President Abbas has always recognised, the reunification of the West Bank and Gaza is a vital building block of a two-state solution. In the region, as experts have suggested, a perception of Israel’s strength has been the prerequisite of peacemaking since 1973: witness, for instance, the 1978 Camp David Accords or the more recent normalisation process between Israel and the Gulf states.
Hamas cannot be allowed to hold hostage the collective fate of millions of Israelis and Palestinians. Its removal offers the only opportunity for peace and security, an end to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and finally bringing this decades-long and bloody conflict to a close. This is the real ceasefire – a permanent end to hostilities which ends the bloodshed for good.