Oliver Miles: Gaza has to be part of any Middle East peace

To demonstrate our concern, a British minister should go there now>

Share
Related Topics

Is there a risk of a Christmas war in the Holy Land? Is there anything Britain can do about it?

The answers are: yes and yes.

The ceasefire in Gaza, always shaky, has come to an end. Even when it was on, the two sides played chicken, one using lethal modern weaponry including airstrikes, the other home-made rockets which mostly explode pointlessly but any one of which might cause a bloodbath. These exchanges will probably now escalate. Possibly neither side actually wants a war; if so both sides are taking insane risks. Why? Because in their different ways they are hobbled by politics and unable to risk sanity.

The world's contribution has been to isolate Gaza and hope that Hamas, which won the election there, will collapse and make way for a more biddable Palestinian regime. No serious observer expects that will happen.

On 16 December the Security Council adopted Resolution 1850 on the Middle East conflict – in order, said Condoleezza Rice, to "put the international community on record as believing in the irreversibility of the Annapolis process", a process aimed at establishing a two-state solution in which it is now impossible to believe. The Bush administration kept the Gaza blockade out of the Resolution.

Once in a blue moon a British minister has the opportunity to do something effective for human rights and an ethical foreign policy. One example was Malcolm Rifkind's decision in 1984 to lay a wreath on the grave of the Polish priest Father Jerzy Popieluszko, murdered by the puppet Jaruzelski government. This gesture made a real contribution to demoralising the government and facilitating its replacement by something much, much better.

David Miliband visited Israel and Palestine last month, but not Gaza. It is not too late. To demonstrate our concern at this dangerous situation a British minister should go there now. Why?

The first reason is that a million and a half people in Gaza are living in intolerable conditions. The UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied territories, himself a Jewish American, has described Israel's policies in Gaza as a crime against humanity, a siege "in its full fury" which allows barely enough food and fuel in to stave off mass famine and disease; he has since been expelled from Israel.

On 15 December the "Quartet" (which speaks for Britain, in that we are part of the European member) declared that the provision of humanitarian supplies to Gaza "must be assured continuously". As Tony Blair has admitted, it is scarcely possible to understand the plight of people in a place like Gaza without going there. It is not acceptable that ministers who make our policy should be shielded from reality.

The second reason is that Gaza is an element without which the "peace process" cannot move forward, and so long as Hamas control Gaza they are essential too. There is a close parallel with the "Framework for Peace" agreement signed at Camp David in 1978 under President Jimmy Carter, which failed because of the exclusion of the PLO from the process as representative of the Palestinian people. The present negotiating position of Hamas on Israel is not acceptable, just like that of the PLO in 1978, but phrases in our policy statements like "mutual trust" and "shared vision" mean nothing unless all the players are coaxed to the table.

The third reason is that Israel is facing elections, in which the favourites oppose compromise or even reject a two-state solution outright. Throughout the Bush years America and its allies have offered no support to Israelis who are eager to find a way toward peace. So long as Israel's foreign friends give the impression that they do not support peace policies, only warmongers are perceived by the voters as realists.

The fourth reason is of course that the Obama administration has still to show its hand. Both the Russians and the French have made it clear in different ways that they are unhappy with the Israeli/American policy, accepted up to now by the Quartet, of refusal to talk to Hamas. Obama has hinted that he may have new thinking in mind. This is a unique opportunity to give a lead.

The British Government have an important part to play, both because of their historical responsibilities and their understanding of the problem. The British ought to make their own national assessment, not accept the assessment of others. These are not my wise words, though they might well be; they were put to me by the head of the international department of Hamas in Beirut a couple of months ago.



The writer is a retired diplomat and was head of the Near East and North Africa Department of the Foreign Office from 1980 to 1983

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Tony Abbott: A man most Australian women would like to pat on the back...iron in hand

Caroline Garnar
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea performs in California  

Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting

Yomi Adegoke
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there