The UK is abdicating its responsibility to help bring about peace in Gaza

Caroline Lucas MP sets out four principles that could start to move towards peace and a lasting political resolution

Benjamin Netanyahu with Rishi Sunak

The IDF carries out raids to destroy tunnels in Central Gaza, killing dozens. Hamas fires rockets back into Israel. A ground invasion follows aerial bombardments, civilian targets are struck, the number killed climbs into the thousands. This is not a description of the Israel-Hamas war we’re witnessing now, in 2024 – but a near-identical one almost 15 years ago.  

In December 2008, the Gaza War (also known as Operation Cast Lead) erupted. On 9 January 2009, the UN Security Council debated a resolution which called for “an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire”. The UK voted for it, successfully shifting the US position from opposition to abstention, and the vote was reinforced at the UN General Assembly on January 16. Two days later, Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire, and the war was over. Bold and creative diplomacy by the UK, which whilst they didn’t follow up in a similar vein, nonetheless made a significant difference on the international stage.  

Fast forward to today, 100 days since the October 7 Hamas terror atrocities in Israel, and that diplomacy is sorely lacking. In early December, the UK Government committed a grave error by abstaining on a ceasefire motion at the UN Security Council – the lesson of history wasted. It then abstained again a week later in a UN General Assembly vote – making the UK just one of 33 countries to oppose or abstain on the ceasefire motion, while 153 countries voted in favour. 

These past 15 years have witnessed five wars – consigning the people of Gaza to ever deteriorating living conditions with barely enough supplies and aid allowed in; the stalemate continues, undermining still further the security of Israel. But with violence spreading through the region into Lebanon, for example, and now the UK and US escalating tensions with their bombing of Yemen, we must make it inconceivable to slip back permanently into endless cycles of violence.

Listening to experts on all sides, there seem to be four key principles that might just start a conversation about how to build the kind of peace which only a fair and lasting political resolution to this crisis can deliver for the people of the region. 

Securing a bilateral ceasefire is clearly a critical first principle – ending the current bloodshed and freeing the remaining Israeli hostages is a pre-requisite for peace. As the UN repeatedly states, the bombs and missiles being dropped aren’t just killing people in their tens of thousands; they are also destroying roads, warehouses, hospitals, schools and other so-called safe places.  

No wonder so many aid agencies on the ground have gone beyond calling for humanitarian corridors, pauses or safe zones. The size and population density of Gaza mean there is nowhere safe for civilians, and no safe means for aid workers to reach people who urgently need help. The only way to ensure men women and children can escape the bombs is to stop them from being dropped.  

The humanitarian case for a ceasefire is overwhelming, but there is a judicial one too – which brings me to the second principle of accountability. Both the Israeli Government and Hamas have responsibilities under international law – above all to minimise civilian casualties, but also only a ceasefire will enable the ICC to conduct investigations into potential war crimes and other human rights violations by both parties, and to establish an Independent Commission of Inquiry. 

The UK Government says the right things about adherence to international law, yet very little has changed, and accountability has not been delivered.  

Fundamental to this principle is that international law forms the foundations on which all policies must rest both about the conduct of the hostilities and the necessary foundations of a lasting settlement. All parties to this conflict must fulfil the requirements of international law and face the full force of censure and other sanctions if they refuse to do so. The UK’s actions are badly out of step with its legal and moral obligations – it must consistently uphold the international rule of law and make sure Benjamin Netanyahu’s government faces the full consequences of violating international law.  Nor should it be involved in any further military action in the region, when this can and will be interpreted as condoning and siding with Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

Thirdly, there has to be dialogue. I understand the rationale behind states refusing to negotiate with terrorist groups. But ensuring lines of communication with Hamas are kept open – along with every back and front channel accessible via the other players in this region, such as Qatar – is the only way to bring the remaining Israeli hostages home to their families and enduring peace. 

Clearly the US has the greatest influence over Israel, but the UK can play a critical role too, as the 2009 UN vote demonstrated – our links with Qatar and Egypt should be used to pull every lever possible in support of a consensus on Israel’s right to exist and a Palestinian state. Conversations must happen for peace to be on the table.  

It takes courage to start a dialogue – especially when even a shared goal feels unattainable, let alone a peaceful outcome, and murderous regimes like Iran are also involved. But from Northern Ireland and Colombia, talking has secured positive and lasting outcomes. No dialogue is the death of peace. We must believe in it and shake hands for it, as Nurit Cooper, one of the Israeli hostages, so memorably did on her release. 

Finally, we must directly confront the complexities that have made peace so elusive to date. My inbox is bursting with different versions of what has brought us to this point – the facts and the feelings. Nuance and debate have been lacking in an era of judgment and condemnation. Those marching for peace are decried as hateful, places of worship are attacked, and our streets have become places where too many people feel afraid. 

Laying the groundwork for peace requires acknowledging how people truly feel. A truth and reconciliation process might be one model. Every Palestinian and Israeli has their own story, their own hurt and their own hopes. Here in the UK, this conflict awakens strong feelings too – so we must weigh the impact of our words, as well as the arms we are still supplying to the region, the bombs we are now ourselves dropping on war ravaged Yemen. The UK must stop repeating the same mistakes and instead bring the alternatives to life.

Decades of suffering and Western backed military intervention have acted as potential recruiting sergeant for the likes of Hamas and the Houthis.

Hunger, isolation and hopelessness are among the conditions in which conflicts thrive. So achieving peace demands that the world address these challenges – and only in the context of a settlement that embodies justice, above all the end to occupation.

An ideology cannot be destroyed by guns and bombs. It can only be destroyed by giving people food and medicine, alongside justice and a more hopeful future in which they are treated with dignity – guaranteeing them freedom and a voice. 

The eyes of the world may well be on this narrow strip of land right now, but they’ve been largely absent as Gazans have been forced to live in an open prison, systematically stripped of their dignity and freedom, by both the Israeli authorities and by Hamas. We mustn’t let our gaze turn away again. 

It’s often said that waging peace is far more difficult than waging war. But we have no choice if we’re to build a safer and more secure world for every child, no matter which side of a border they are born. 

Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion

Image credit: Simon Walker / Number 10 Downing Street – Creative Commons

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