Since Hamas’ brutal and savage attack on Israeli civilians on 7 October, Israel’s has sought to defend its citizens by dismantling the terror group’s military and political infrastructure in Gaza.
It has the right and duty to do so, and, like any democracy engaged in a conflict, a responsibility to abide by international law and to minimise civilian casualties.
As the war enters its 15th week, there must be urgent action to address the humanitarian plight of the people of Gaza, free all the Israeli hostages being held by Hamas, secure a sustainable ceasefire, and bring about vital political change in Israel.
The humanitarian situation in Gaza is worsening, desperate and heartbreaking, while the Israeli hostages have endured 109 days in captivity.
A prolonged humanitarian pause must be implemented to allow a humanitarian surge and the immediate release of all Israeli hostages and ensure a sustained ceasefire.
The dire situation in Gaza is rooted in 16 years of rule by Hamas. An antisemitic terror group, it prioritises its genocidal aspirations against the Jewish people over the safety, welfare and wellbeing of the Palestinian people. Hamas uses the civilian population as human shields, and weaponises civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals.
Nonetheless, Israel has a responsibility to facilitate the fast, regular and safe delivery of aid to the people of Gaza.
Since the onset of the conflict, Israel has facilitated over 10,000 trucks of humanitarian aid into Gaza, including via the Kerem Shalom crossing; implemented a humanitarian evacuation corridor and regular tactical pauses for humanitarian purposes; and designated a humanitarian zone in southern Gaza.
Despite this effort, huge challenges remain which imperil the lives of innocent civilians in Gaza. Many civilians have been displaced and are sheltering in cold, cramped and overcrowded conditions; most hospitals are unable to work normally at a time when infectious diseases are spreading; there is an inadequate supply of food, proper sanitation and clean water.
Only a prolonged humanitarian surge – allowing greater supplies of aid to enter Gaza and be safely distributed over a sustained period – can address the scale of the crisis.
Alongside the humanitarian surge, Hamas must immediately release the 132 Israeli hostages it continues to hold. On 7 October, Hamas brutally abducted an estimated 240 Israelis – including women, children and elderly people. During November’s humanitarian pause, 100 hostages were released but Hamas broke its word and has failed to release all women and children. Those held hostage have been murdered, beaten and subject to sexual violence by their captors. They have been denied vital medicines and visits by the International Red Cross. And their families have been subject to psychological torture. We must bring all the hostages home now.
A sustainable ceasefire is urgently required. During the prolonged humanitarian pause, diplomatic action must ensure fighting does not resume and rocket attacks on Israel cease. This will require an end to Hamas’ political and military power. Hamas has opposed all previous peace initiatives; broken every previous ceasefire; subjected the Palestinian people to a brutal and authoritarian rule; and vowed to carry out attacks like those of 7 October “again and again” as part of its long-running campaign to destroy the Jewish state.
Alongside a sustainable ceasefire, Israel and the international community must prepare for the future and a long-term peace. The peace process must be relaunched to ensure security, safety and dignity to the Israeli and Palestinian people alike. A Madrid-style international peace conference with the buy-in of all parties could outline a road-map to peace. A Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Gaza must be designed. A culture of peace must be promoted through massive investment and the establishment of an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. A reformed and revitalised Palestinian Authority must assume responsibility for the governance of Gaza. A negotiated demilitarised Palestinian state must be established with the Israeli people confident the Jewish state is genuinely safe and secure within recognised borders. And relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours must be fully normalised, with Israel able to assume its rightful place in its regional home and the malign impact of Iran and its proxy armies, including Hezbollah, recognised and addressed.
It is clear that the current Israeli government lacks the will, desire and political strength to attain these goals. A new, broad “unity government” should be established pending elections as soon as possible. Since entering government last January, the junior far-right coalition parties have wreaked political chaos. They continue to divide the country and hinder national unity. They have opposed action to release the hostages and prevented post-war planning. And they have undermined Israeli’s international position. Their presence in government was always shameful. It is now dangerous. A new government, without their participation, is vital.
The conflict between Israel and Hamas has cost too many innocent Israeli and Palestinian lives over the past three decades. It is time to bring it to a close.