Please be aware that this is such a fast moving situation so it is up to date at the time of writing (15:00 on 28th November).
The devastating scenes we see unfolding in Israel and Gaza over the past month have been heart-breaking for us all. Any loss of life – Palestinian or Israeli – is tragic, but the fact so many have been children makes it even more upsetting. With every airstrike, rocket and bullet fired, children are paying the highest price for a conflict they have no part in. We are all watching our TV screens in total disbelief with a sense of powerlessness, upset and anger.
We are all too aware of the cycles of conflict that plague the lives of innocent Palestinians and Israelis over decades. The backdrop to this current escalation of hostilities is well known. The question we now find ourselves wrestling with is how we help reach the peaceful resolution we all so desperately want, and how to achieve the long-term aim of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.
There is only a political solution to this crisis. The reality is that neither the long-term justice for Palestine nor the long-term security of Israel can be delivered by bombs, bullets, and bloodshed, especially of children. It also is unlikely to be delivered with a reactionary right wing Israeli government led by Natanyahu and a terrorist organisation in Hamas.
Everyone is horrified by what we are witnessing and crying out for action to bring the bloodshed to an end.
I fully share the many concerns that have been raised by people across Edinburgh South and further afield.
This is not just a humanitarian crisis; it is a crisis of humanity.
The issue most constituents are contacting me about is on the issue of an immediate cessation of hostilities. We all want these hostilities to end – and now. That is unarguable. The debate is how you get there and we have been backing the current progress that has been made in the temporary 4 day cessation of hostilities (now 6 days) in exchange for unlimited and unabated aid into Gaza and hostage exchanges.
This was the only way forward on the table and, albeit small, is the first step along the tracks to a full and permanent ceasefire.
But it is also the case that Israel must change the way it is fighting this war against Hamas terrorists by taking urgent steps to protect civilians, hospitals and children, and ensure humanitarian aid reaches the innocent people caught up. There have been too many innocent casualties and it is not acceptable what is happening which is why we have called for the International Criminal Court to be involved in Gaza to determine what is happening.
I absolutely welcome the news of an agreement to release a substantial number of hostages from both sides and to have a lengthy humanitarian pause in hostilities between Israel and Hamas. The news today (Tuesday) is that there may be further extensions for hostages which would be another step forward.
A substantial humanitarian pause is what Labour has been calling for alongside our international partners but we have always stated that this is the very minimum of starting point towards a more permanent cessation of hostilities.
We must also use the space this pause creates to take more steps on a path towards a full cessation of hostilities rather than an escalation of violence.
Palestinian politician Dr Mustafa Barghouti spoke to Radio 4 at the announcement of the deal that was agreed saying that he believes: “This is the beginning of something that could lead to a complete and total ceasefire.”
That has been our stated policy from the start of this latest crisis and why we didn’t back a vote for a ceasefire but backed this position in our own vote.
The UN resolution that was passed at the security council last week was also in line with this latest humanitarian pause agreement.
This was the single and only option available and, I restate, must start a process that ensures Israelis feel safe and secure from terror and that innocent Palestinians, who have endured far too much death and destruction, can return home and rebuild their lives free from bombardment and Hamas control on the journey to a permanent peace.
In recent years, the international community has treated the two-state solution as a slogan rather than a serious strategy. That must now change and we must take this small opportunity to make it happen. Netanyahu and Hamas are barriers to that progress and neither get a blank cheque for their activities in making peace harder. We must call it out on both sides and try and work with politicians in Palestine and Israel who are committed to peace rather than committed to mutual destruction for political advantage at home.
In Parliament, votes were held on the King’s speech where many amendments have been placed by MPs. Our collective voice from the UK Parliament must advocate for realistic solutions to stop the bloodshed and innocent loss of life. That is the responsible course of action when faced with such horrors. It was, disappointing, therefore, for the Prime Minister to visit Israel and declare “we want you to win”. That was the wrong thing to do in the circumstances.
An immediate ceasefire is the desired outcome as the UN and international agencies have called for and others have rightly said, but sadly it was never possible given both sides in this war have already said they will not countenance it. Even if Israel was persuaded to unilaterally stop its military operation (and the Israeli government has said it will not consider this until all hostages are returned as a minimum), the terrorists Hamas have already said they would continue to perpetrate murderous attacks like 7 October “over and over again”. A ceasefire requires buy-in from both sides to work and no side wants it.
I therefore voted for an amendment to the King’s Speech which outlined the practical, achievable path to a political resolution, which recognises several complex issues of the current situation, and aims to stop the bloodshed. I acknowledge that many want the House of Commons to go further, but what was being put forward by the Labour Party is a possible and realistic solution for today, not a perfect solution for tomorrow.
The amendment included the following elements:
– It demanded a full, comprehensive, long and immediate humanitarian pause in the fighting from both sides across the whole of Gaza and Israel now.
– Recognises all human life is equal and that there has already been too much suffering of innocent civilians and children.
– Affirms our commitment to the international rules-based system, humanitarian law, and the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court to address the issues in Gaza and the Hamas attacks.
– Calls on Israel to protect hospitals, lift the siege in Gaza and allow in unrestricted aid and supplies.
– Requests the Government continue to work with the international community to prevent a wider escalation of the conflict in the region, guarantee that people in Gaza who are forced to flee during this conflict can return to their homes and seek an end to the expansion of illegal settlements and settler violence in the West Bank;
– Acknowledges that while daily humanitarian pauses allow in aid and the movement of civilians, believes they must be longer to meet the desperate needs of the people of Gaza.
– And acknowledges that while humanitarian pauses are not perfect, they are the possible and necessary first step to an enduring cessation of hostilities and a credible, diplomatic, and political process to deliver the lasting peace of a 2-state solution.
– Condemnation of the terrorist attacks: Condemning the horrific terrorist attack and murder of civilians by Hamas on October 7th.
Release of the hostages: Calls for the immediate release of all hostages.
– All human life is equal: Asserts that all human life is equal and that there has been too much suffering, including far too many deaths of innocent civilians and children.
– Respect for international law: Reasserts UK’s commitment to the rules-based international order, international humanitarian law and the jurisdiction of the ICC to address the conduct of all parties.
– Lift the siege: Calls on Israel to protect hospitals and lift the siege conditions allowing food, water, electricity, medicine and fuel into Gaza.
Prevent escalation: Requests the UK Government continues to work with the international community to prevent a wider escalation of the conflict in the region.
– Right to return home: Ensures people in Gaza who are forced to flee during this conflict can return to their homes.
– End illegal settlement expansion: Seeks an end to the expansion of illegal settlements and settler violence in the West Bank.
– Cessation of fighting: Calls for longer humanitarian pauses to allow in aid and the movement of civilians as a necessary step to an enduring cessation of fighting as soon as possible.
– And on a Two-state solution: Seeks a credible, diplomatic and political process to deliver the lasting peace of a two state solution.
This was a wide-ranging amendment that covers all the issues that have been raised directly with me and with my colleagues.
It also recognises that humanitarian pauses are what is negotiable at present, can be delivered, and can be the foundation on which to build trust towards a more permanent ceasefire and a pathway to some sort of lasting peace process. We must not give up on the narrow openings that keep the prospect of peace alive and not let the perfect be the enemy of the possible.
That means preventing escalation in the region and de-escalation in Gaza; condemning violence from settlers in the West Bank; condemning rocket attacks on Israel from Iran’s proxies in Lebanon and elsewhere; and creating a future where Gaza is not subject to occupation.
This amendment is aligned with the resolution backed by the UN security council on 16th November, which calls for “urgent, extended humanitarian pauses for a sufficient number of days to allow aid access”. Our amendment is clear that any humanitarian pauses should be carried out with a view to moving to longer pauses and a lasting ceasefire as quickly as possible.
It encapsulates the above points that we have been championing and trying to achieve by keeping the pressure on the government.
For the violence to end we need to create the conditions on the ground where both sides can bring an end to the bloodshed. That starts with what has been negotiated so far, even if we may wish we could go further and faster to the point where the violence stops now.
Ultimately, we all want to see a lasting cessation of violence and for peace to prevail in the region. While the daily 4 hour pauses that have been achieved by diplomatic negotiation are insufficient, they show that progress is possible and the latest 6 day temporary ceasefire moves this on too. Tiny steps can be the foundation for a more permanent ceasefire and those 4 hour pauses have led to the most recent agreement.
I also want to address the issue of ‘war crimes’, which is the reason for us calling for the International Criminal Court to investigate what is happening in Gaza. We are all horrified by the killing and maiming of children, abduction of children, and attacks on their schools and hospitals. These are grave, and those responsible must be held to account for their actions through the appropriate bodies.
I know that not everyone will fully agree with me or with each other on these complex issues, but we all share the same desire for an end to violence and bloodshed.
Constituents have raised the issue of community tensions and I have been working hard with all our communities to provide support and advice on these issues. A number of specific questions have been raised and I have written to the new Foreign Secretary, David Cameron, to seek answers on your behalf and make your representations to government. I will keep scrutinising, pressing and representing constituent concerns to the government.
This is an ever-changing situation and I am certain we will revisit this in the days and weeks ahead. Having visited Gaza a decade ago as part of an EU delegation, I have seen myself the issues on the ground and the impact of the recent history, especially the blockade. Simply, we need a solution now.
This is hugely complex and certainly the most difficult issue I have faced as an MP. As your MP, I have always been honest, straightforward, accessible and responsive to every single communication that I receive. I will continue to do that.
Beyond all the current efforts to end the violence and while the two-state solution may seem further away than ever, it is essential we do not lose sight of it. For far too long we have paid lip service to the notion of a two-state solution, and the world has failed to get the Palestinian people any closer to a sovereign state to call home. Peace must be more than just something we all hope for – it must become a reality for Palestinians and Israelis.
In a statement on the end of the cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party, said:
“The end of the cessation of hostilities in Gaza is deeply concerning, I urge all sides not to squander progress made over the last week.
“All sides must work for a return to cessation that would allow for the release of more hostages, provide much needed time and space to tackle the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and open a dialogue for a political solution that provides for a long-term, cessation of hostilities.
“We will only reach that long-term solution if Israel is assured that Hamas cannot carry out an attack like October 7 ever again. Those who can influence Hamas must demand they release the remaining hostages immediately.
“The levels of death and destruction over the past weeks has been intolerable. Far too many innocent Palestinians, including women and children, have been killed as part of military operations. There must be full accountability for all actions.
“As fighting sadly resumes, Israel must not besiege or blockade Gaza. They must comply with international law by protecting innocent lives and civilian infrastructure like schools and hospitals.
“With winter coming and the people in Gaza being forced to live in an ever-smaller section of the strip, attempts to address the humanitarian catastrophe cannot regress, aid must be ramped up. The people of Gaza need aid, food, water, fuel, shelter, and medicine in huge volumes, to ensure hospitals function and lives are saved. We know the risk of disease is high and must be mitigated.
“Those displaced in this conflict also need assurances of their right to return home and rebuild their lives. Gaza cannot be left as a refugee camp, there can be no reoccupation or reduction of its territory.
“The UK and partners must start work immediately to find a pathway to an enduring cessation of hostilities and a lasting political solution. We want to see the threat of Hamas removed, the end to illegal settlements and settler violence in the West Bank, and a plan for the reconstruction and renewal of Gaza.
“Palestinians must be assured their future will not be like the past, that they and their children will be able to enjoy the security, opportunities and rights that we take for granted.
“That will not be easy. Diplomatic work never is. But the past few days have shown what diplomacy can do.
“These are the essential steps if we are to deliver a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel, the only credible basis for long-term peace.
“Military action without this sort of plan cannot succeed.”