LORD CAMERON: We all abhor unpleasant deals, but that’s what must happen if we are to solve the Gaza crisis

Last week I travelled from Israel, a country where they want to eradicate every last Hamas terrorist, to Qatar, where they gave Hamas’s political leaders a home.

In Turkey, I met up with President Erdogan. While he praised the South Africans for accusing Israel of genocide, I think their case is unjustified.

Despite this, I finished the week believing that, with the right steps, we could see an end to the fighting and even the start of a viable solution to the Israel/Palestine question.

Why? How?

Israel and the Palestinians seem as far apart as ever. After the horrors of October 7, even liberally minded Israelis find it hard to stomach the idea of a two-state solution. And, of course, many Palestinians have been further brutalised by what has happened during more than 100 days of fighting.

Yet, underneath, both sides can see that the past 30 years have been a colossal failure. For all the growth of Israel’s economy, rising living standards and investment in military might and physical barriers, they don’t have the one thing every country and every family yearns for: security. And for all the actions of the Palestinians – whether taking the peaceful path and campaigning for recognition, or the violent one and attacking Israel – they have not achieved the dignity of statehood.

And in the current conflict, both sides can see that it isn’t leading where they want.

Israelis take cover from incoming rocket fire from the Gaza Strip in Ashkelon, Oct. 11, 2023

Flames and smoke billow during Israeli strikes in Gaza on October 9 as Israel imposed its siege

Flames and smoke billow during Israeli strikes in Gaza on October 9 as Israel imposed its siege

For Israel, more than 130 hostages are stuck and their families are increasingly desperate. As for Hamas, they must know that just about the best thing they can look forward to is a grisly death in a cold, dark tunnel.

Lord Cameron speaks during an interview in Istanbul, Turkey January 26, 2024

Lord Cameron speaks during an interview in Istanbul, Turkey January 26, 2024

So there is – just possibly – a narrow pathway ahead. It must start with an immediate pause in the fighting. This could allow vital aid to get in to Gaza, where people are starving and disease is spreading.

And it could see the negotiations to free the hostages succeed.

We should all abhor the idea of trading guilty prisoners to bring back these innocent people.

But impossible times make for unpleasant deals – and that’s what needs to happen.

Next we need to turn a fragile truce into a sustainable, permanent ceasefire without a return to more fighting. More than that: can we at the same time kick-start a process that could lead to something much bigger – a lasting solution?

In fact, the two things – ceasefire and solution – are closely linked.

These are the vital steps.

We have to see the key Hamas leaders leave Gaza. Israel has permitted safe passage for terrorists in the past – and the people responsible for October 7 have to go.

We have to see the instruments of terrorism still in Gaza being dismantled. In the carnage of the past 100-plus days of conflict, it often goes unreported that Hamas rocket attacks against Israel have continued. And Hamas still wants to launch terrorist atrocities again. It must be put beyond doubt that this cannot happen.

These steps would give Israel some of the reassurance it needs to end its military campaign. But the Palestinian people need reassurance too.

A Palestinian man carries an injured a girl following an Israeli strike, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 14, 2023

A Palestinian man carries an injured a girl following an Israeli strike, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 14, 2023

Israelis take cover as a siren sounds a warning of incoming rockets fired from the Gaza Strip in Rehovot, October 13, 2023

Israelis take cover as a siren sounds a warning of incoming rockets fired from the Gaza Strip in Rehovot, October 13, 2023

We must give the people of the West Bank and Gaza the political perspective of a credible route to a Palestinian state and a new future. And it needs to be irreversible. This is not entirely in our gift. But Britain and our partners can help by confirming our commitment to a sovereign, viable Palestinian state, and our vision for its composition. And, crucially, we must state our clear intention to grant it recognition, including at the United Nations.

The Palestinian leadership must help as well, by forming a new government which can immediately start to deliver.

There is now a younger generation of Palestinians. They share their leader President Abbas’s dedication to realising a Palestinian state. But they know it is going to need a technocratic, modern administration that can win the confidence of people in Gaza, the West Bank and the wider Muslim and Arab world.

All these things are intricately linked because you can’t get one without all the others.

Arab and other allies in the region won’t help guarantee the end of Hamas terrorism or back a new Palestinian authority unless they see a clear pathway to a state called Palestine.

Israel won’t forswear renewed hostilities unless Hamas are finished in Gaza.

And Palestinians won’t believe life will really be different unless they are governed by other Palestinians and see a long-term future.

There will be many other elements to add to such a plan:

  • The promise of normalised relations between Israel and countries such as Saudi Arabia, whose influence is growing across the region and the world;
  • Genuine security guarantees for Israel and restrictions on what a future Palestinian state can do in terms of security and alliances;
  • A programme to end radicalised education programmes that teach children to hate those of a different faith;
  • A massive international effort to rebuild Gaza and make the most of its pivotal location and brilliant people.
A fire rages at sunrise in Khan Younis following an Israeli airstrike on targets in the southern Gaza strip

A fire rages at sunrise in Khan Younis following an Israeli airstrike on targets in the southern Gaza strip

Israeli security forces evacuate an injured woman from a site hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon, southern Israel, Saturday, October 7, 2023

Israeli security forces evacuate an injured woman from a site hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon, southern Israel, Saturday, October 7, 2023

Naturally, there will be differences of opinion about the right order of these steps and to extent to which they must be completed and by when. That’s why we are pressing for a Contact Group that brings together the US, UK, key EU states, Gulf and Arab countries and Turkey to be set up at once.

In all of this the aim must be clear. Let’s use a pause in the fighting to build unstoppable momentum towards a lasting solution.

It’s only when the prize on offer from peace is more attractive than the potential benefit of continued conflict that we will have the chance of a better future.

And the time to start is now.

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