Richard Graham is the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy for Indonesia, and is MP for Gloucester
Although I understand and share the frustration about how much time it took for Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire, the Government was right to focus on obtaining one, recognising that the humanitarian situation in Gaza was intolerable.
We’ve urged both sides to agree to an immediate and unconditional ceasefire – and now have one for 72 hours. Our objective now is to make it permanent, so that the killing stops.
It’s an important first step to ending the suffering of the people of Gaza and creating the space for discussions on how to resolve the underlying issues on both sides. We urge both sides to respect it. I support the talks in Egypt as a way forward to a lasting end to the violence, although the necessary trust between both sides will have been brutally damaged by the events of the last month. Avoiding future conflict and improving life for ordinary Palestinians, as well as addressing Israel’s legitimate security needs, is critical – but I’m not confident of the commitment by either the Israeli government or Hamas to making the necessary compromises to achieve that.
At the same time, we’re also pressing for urgent measures to relieve the humanitarian suffering of those in Gaza. The UK is already providing more than £15m in emergency assistance to help tens of thousands of Palestinians affected.
Finally, a cross-Government review of export licences to Israel is underway. No new licenses have been issued for use by the Israeli military since the invasion of Gaza.
I warned the Israeli Ambassador that, while his government could win a military clash over Iranian rockets fired by Hamas, and against the tunnels built for military incursions into Israel, the collateral damage done to civilians – given Hamas’ cynical use of schools and hospitals for storage and military bases – would risk a humanitarian disaster and arouse western anger. That is what has happened, and it disturbs us all very much.
As I said in the Commons almost a month ago, few of us emerge with any credit from this conflict in which peaceful people in Gaza have suffered the most – and peace lovers in Israel have been appalled too. You don’t have to be a supporter of Hamas to raise real questions about some of Israel’s actions: and I will continue to do so.