I’m a friend of Israel, but William is right. The mass, often indiscriminate, killing of women and children has to stop

Prince William was probably wrong to ­intervene in the Middle East crisis in the way he did.

As heir to the throne, he is supposed to be above politics. He’s not meant to say anything that might affect ­Britain’s relations with foreign states. Can one imagine the late Queen doing so? Of course not.

And yet although he was unwise to speak out, what he said was surely morally correct, and reflected the views of millions, who are as appalled as the Prince by the deaths and ­injuries of so many innocent people, including thousands of children, in Gaza.

William is right to be ‘deeply ­concerned’ about the ‘terrible human cost of the conflict’ since the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7. He’s also right to want ‘to see an end to the fighting as soon as possible’. In effect, he was calling for a ceasefire, which is something the Government has not quite done.

I believe Israel was justified in ­retaliating to Hamas’s barbaric assault. Almost every country in the world would have acted in a similar way to such an outrage, though whether it’s possible to wipe the evil organisation from the face of the earth may be doubted.

William is right to be ‘deeply ­concerned’ about the ‘terrible human cost of the conflict’ since the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7

However understandable ­Israel¿s reaction may have been, there comes a point when the killing is disproportionate to the original crime, writes our columnist Stephen Glover

However understandable ­Israel’s reaction may have been, there comes a point when the killing is disproportionate to the original crime, writes our columnist Stephen Glover

Hamas is utterly ruthless, even at the cost of the Palestinian people and their welfare. It is committed to the destruction of the State of Israel. It is unquestionably anti-Semitic.

But however understandable ­Israel’s reaction may have been, there comes a point when the killing is disproportionate to the original crime. As ­President Biden has put it in an ­irritatingly folksy but nonetheless truthful way, ‘the ­conduct of the [Israeli] response in Gaza … has been over the top’.

Hamas has been partially disabled. An attempt by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to extirpate the terrorist group in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza, would very likely involve the deaths of many thousands more Palestinian civilians, who are effectively trapped without any obvious means of escape.

I write as a friend of Israel. I want it to survive and prosper, ideally alongside an independent Palestinian State, although as I’ll argue later, that is unfortunately now a very distant and increasingly implausible prospect.

My fear is that if the IDF ­persists — if it kills yet more thousands of civilians, besides ­exacerbating the already active threats of disease and ­starvation — then Israel will hand a propaganda victory to its ­enemies, and stand ­condemned for a generation in the minds of civilised people.

Am I being unfair? Hypocritical even? Didn’t British and U. S. bombers kill and maim immeasurably more blameless children in bombing raids over Dresden and other German cities during World War II?

Yes, they did. It’s true. But there is this difference — that our parents and grandparents weren’t fully aware of the ­terrible human consequences of what was done, whereas now, thanks to ubiquitous modern media, we are painfully alive to the suffering in Gaza.

And what, you may ask, about the 134-odd hostages seized by Hamas who are still ­unaccounted for? Doesn’t Israel have the right to demand their release?

Of course, it does. But when it threatens to launch an ­offensive against Rafah if the hostages aren’t set free by March 10, I begin to fear. The carnage will be terrible if a land assault goes ahead. Some 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering in Rafah. It’s likely that hostages would be killed. According to the Israeli ­government, at least 30 already have been.

The best hope for the surviving hostages is that they will be released following negotiations brokered by moderate Arab states. Israel will have to accept the grotesque imbalance of handing over many more Palestinian prisoners than they receive hostages in return from Hamas.

Will the Israeli government stop and consider? I’m afraid it is unlikely to take much notice of the chaotic debate in the Commons yesterday, with the major ­political parties wrangling over what constitutes ‘an immediate ceasefire’ (SNP) or ‘an immediate humanitarian ceasefire’ (Labour) or ‘an immediate humanitarian pause’ (the Government).

The Scot Nats motion was too unconditional, and gave Hamas a virtual carte blanche to revive hostilities. Labour’s official approach — the leadership is plagued by backbench rebels — was more balanced. As for the Tories, it all depends how long a pause is. I believe it should be long.

The Israeli government is more likely to listen to the United States, which is still resisting calls for a ceasefire while at the same time casting doubt in a draft UN resolution on the wisdom of a ground offensive in Rafah. It fears this ‘would result in further harm to civilians and their further displacement including potentially into neighbouring countries’.

Not since the 1956 Suez ­Crisis — when America criticised Israel after it had invaded Egypt, egged on by France and Britain — has there been such a wide gulf between Washington and Jerusalem. It remains to be seen whether Israel’s beleaguered and unloved prime ­minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will take any notice.

Israel’s supporters shouldn’t be uncritical. Since the nation’s founding in 1948, and before, there have been ­visionary statesmen — people like Chaim Weizmann, the country’s first president, and David Ben-Gurion, its first prime minister. Or Yitzhak Rabin, the former army general who worked for peace as prime ­minister before being assassinated by an Israeli extremist in 1995.

There have been less attractive prime ministers such as Menachem Begin, a former ­terrorist who targeted the ­British before they left Palestine in 1948, and was always distrusted by Margaret Thatcher for that reason. Yet Begin made peace with Egypt in 1979.

Netanyahu may not himself be an extremist, but he relies on the support of two far-Right ­parties who are. The finance minister is Bezalel Smotrich, whose Religious Zionist party draws support from hardline West Bank settlers. Last March, he claimed there is ‘no such thing’ as the Palestinian people.

As long as Netanyahu and people like Smotrich are in charge, there is a risk that Israel will continue to ignore the warnings of those who wish it well, and put itself beyond the pale. That would be a tragedy.

Not that peace will be easy in any circumstances. Foreign Secretary David Cameron talks a little glibly of a two-state solution, as though all that is needed is for people of ­goodwill to sit around the same table. That is not so.

For one thing, there are nearly 700,000 Israeli settlers on the West Bank, which is not part of Israel. What happens to them? And why should any Israeli government accept a Palestinian State given what took place in Gaza? Within two years of the Israelis withdrawing from the Strip in 2005, Hamas was in power and firing rockets into southern Israel.

The road ahead is long and hard. There are certainly no instant solutions. And it’s far from clear that an elderly, ­practically senile U.S. President in the dying days of his administration will have the moral authority or the will to stand up to Netanyahu.

Whether it’s called a ceasefire or a long pause doesn’t matter. Whatever happens, the mass, often indiscriminate, killing of women and children must stop. Friends of Israel should realise that this has gone on long enough.

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