If Israel wants peace, it must talk to Hamas

The two sides need to be brought to the negotiating table to secure an internationally guaranteed peace

Share

I suspect that there is growing anger among our population as they’ve watched on television the daily slaughter and destruction in Gaza – and the mealy-mouthed statements from both our Government and the Americans’ in response.

Spokesmen for the Israelis regularly recount the huge number of rockets fired from Gaza into Israeli territory, but fail to tell us that the vast majority of these have been successfully intercepted without casualties. In fact, over the entire past decade they have killed two dozen Israeli citizens. Unacceptably dreadful though these figures are, there is neither political nor moral equivalence with the 1,600 civilians killed in Gaza currently and the 1,400 killed in the previous Operation Cast Lead in 2009. So those “on the one hand and on the other” balanced utterances are made in shameful disregard of the facts.

I write as one who has visited Ashkelon and Siderot – two of the most regularly hit towns in the south of Israel – and talked with their people and their members of Knesset. So I fully understand their mixture of fear and justified rage. Yet as the 2009 operation amply demonstrated, bombing and blasting Gaza does not stop the rocket attacks.

I am a member of the “Friends of Israel” because I always seek to draw a clear distinction between the State of Israel and the current Israeli government. It is becoming sadly increasingly difficult to maintain that distinction in today’s world. The damage done to Israel’s standing is incalculable. In my student days in the late Fifties, many spent their vacations working in kibbutz, fired by the idealism of Israel – that has stopped. Instead, we see a revival of vicious anti-Semitic incidents all over the world in response to what is seen to be mass murder.

That contagion threatens to spread to terrorist groups fired by distorted views of Islam all over the Middle East and Africa. Our ministers have rightly expressed concern about radicalised extremists returning to our shores and undermining our security. They should wake up to the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu is their strongest recruiting agent.

The only way to stop the mutual bloodshed is to bring Hamas to the negotiating table and secure an internationally guaranteed peace. John Kerry understands that but gets little support from his own or our Government. But, it is argued, Hamas is a “terrorist organisation”. We have been here before. I recall my first meeting with Yasser Arafat in 1981 when the PLO was a “terrorist organisation” and no ministers would speak to him. I argued that he should change the PLO covenant, and that came only years later followed by the shake of hands on the White House lawn.

Yet one of the reasons for the success of Hamas in the elections in Gaza was the incompetence and corruption prevalent in Mr Arafat’s Fatah administration. The recent formation of the Fatah/Hamas unity government was a real opportunity to commence dialogue – wholly rejected by the Israeli government. I also recall in the 1970s my discussions with ANC leaders when they too were dubbed a “terrorist organisation” with whom neither the South African nor British governments would deal.

The uncomfortable truth is that the Netanyahu government is treating Palestinians as lesser human beings in exactly the same way the apartheid government treated the majority of its citizens. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 which first envisaged a “national home for the Jewish people” – an ideal given impetus after the Second World War – included the proviso “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. Try telling that to the people of Gaza today.

Lord Steel of Aikwood is past-president of the charity Medical Aid for the Palestinians, and a former leader of the Liberal party

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both end winter fuel allowances for pensioners with enough income to pay the 40p tax rate  

Politicians court the grey vote because pensioners, unlike the young, vote

Andrew Grice
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after agreeing a deal on carbon emissions  

Beijing must face down the perils of being big and powerful – or boom may turn to bust

Peter Popham
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable