James Clappison is MP for Hertsmere and vice-chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel.
The Israeli raid on the flotilla bound for Gaza that left nine people dead was a calamity. The loss of life is deeply tragic and all sides need to consider if there is more they could have done to prevent that. On Israel’s part the whole operation was poorly thought through and badly planned. An inquiry into the events is important. We should support the government’s call for a full independent, transparent and impartial process of investigation. Answers must be sought and lessons learnt.
However, while the story rumbles on, the accusatory headlines continue, and international outrage abounds, it is imperative that we don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. The fundamental fact is that whatever the rights and wrongs of the Israeli operation, there are larger, more important issues at play in the Middle East. Last week's events should not be forgotten but neither should they result in the government, Parliament, the media and the public forgetting the wider issues.
It is all too easy to forget what Hamas, which controls Gaza, really stand for. At the heart of Hamas’s radical ideology is its totalitarian, theological Charter, which advocates homicide and genocide. It calls not just for the creation of an Islamic state and the destruction of Zionism but for the destruction of the Jewish people. Article 13 of the Charter states that:
“There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavours.”
Many in the West have been persuaded that Hamas are victims of Israeli oppression. To those that argue that Hamas should be brought into the fold of the international community, I say, don’t be so naive. Hamas continue to send rockets over the border into Israel. They plan suicide attacks. They smuggle arms. They ignore Security Council resolutions. They collude with rogue states. And they continue to reject the Quartet Principles set out by the international community; reject violence; recognise Israel; and abide by previous peace agreements.
Hamas has shown no interest in taking the important steps of the Quartet Principles. Despite numerous requests and opportunities the group continues to thumb its nose at the international community and grows closer to Iran – itself complicit in encouraging Hamas’s aggressive stance – a state who continues to flout international law in order to advance its nuclear ambitions.
Additionally what sort of message does it send to President Abbas and the leadership of the moderate Palestinian Authority? It is plain to see that the Fatah-run PA’s acceptance of Israel and renunciation of violence has resulted in significant, material gains for ordinary Palestinians in the West Bank. Last year the West Bank economy grew by a record seven per cent. The West has gone to great pains to bolster the Abbas leadership. We should continue steps to help empower the moderate Fatah party.
To achieve concrete, lasting progress in peace talks and long-term security in the region, Hamas must accept the basic Quartet Principles. With its ideology intact, they cannot be a partner for peace and will ensure that any Middle East peace is short-lived. The reality is that Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and the West have a shared interest in preventing Hamas from being strengthened. Instead, strengthening the PA and ensuring that a moderate national unity government is established in Gaza and the West Bank should be our focus. The best hope for the people of Gaza is not Hamas but for Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to be able to implement his economic and state building programme there.
Israel doesn't always get everything right but democracy and rule of law are central and when mistakes are made the people of Israel can , and do , change their leaders. In our reaction to the tragic events that took place last week, we must not do anything which emboldens Hamas to pursue its course of aggression and rejection. To hand such a propaganda coup to Hamas paves the way for future conflict.
We in the UK must not lose sight of the fact that to have any hope of peace in the Middle East we should continue to pressure Hamas to change its ways. Hamas need to know that we will not reward its terror tactics, and that the fundamental issues of getting it to renounce violence, stop smuggling and distance itself from Iran, will form the core of our policy. On this, the government must remain resolute.