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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The UCAS clearing house call centre in Cheltenham, England  

Ucas should share its data on students from poor backgrounds so we can get a clearer picture of social mobility

Conor Ryan
A study of 16 young women performing light office work showed that they were at risk of being over-chilled by air conditioning in summer  

It's not just air conditioning that's guilty of camouflage sexism

Mollie Goodfellow
Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks