Talking Politics

Time to recognise a Palestinian state

By Paul Blomfield MP

After the horror of the preceding days, last Wednesday's ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas was extremely welcome. And the role of the new leadership of Egypt in brokering the deal was a significant development. But the conflict should be a wake-up call to the international community to renew efforts to secure a permanent and lasting peace, through the establishment of states of Israel and Palestine with mutually accepted boundaries and meaningful territorial integrity.

It remains a long road ahead, but the starting point has to be recognising the longstanding and justified grievances of the Palestinian people. It won't help, as William Hague did last week, to simply blame Hamas missiles for triggering the recent crisis.  We must face up to the injustices on which Hamas has built its support. That means challenging the appalling status quo in Gaza that is at the heart of this week's bloodshed and violence.

Israel's unlawful blockade of Gaza, which started fiveand a half years ago, has created intolerable conditions for the 1.6 million Palestinians in Gaza. They are denied their fundamental rights and the right to a normal life. The blockade has caused the economy to collapse, leading to nearly 30% adult unemployment; 80% of Palestinians in Gaza receiving aid; and living conditions which are getting progressively worse through overcrowding (exacerbated by Israel preventing construction materials from entering).

In the face of daily oppression and a deep humanitarian crisis, Hamas have offered a clear and attractive message that they are standing up to Israel. Whilst Hamas rocket attacks are to be condemned, Israel needs to be pressed to take the steps which could transform prospects for peace. It is Israel's unlawful blockade of Gaza, illegal settlements in the West Bank and casual disregard for Palestinian rights that are the major barriers to a lasting peace.

So what now? In the coming days the international community can't just breathe a sigh of relief that the missiles, drones and rocket attacks have stopped, and carry on as normal. The ceasefire has put a lid on the pressure cooker, but we need to take away the heat. David Cameron said this week that 'we need courageous leadership from Israelis and Palestinians.' This is true but we need more. Commenting from the sidelines isn't enough. We also need courageous leadership from the west and the UK should now play its part.

Supporting the Palestinian Authority's bid for observer status at the UN General Assembly would be a step in the right direction. As Ed Miliband said 'it will strengthen the moderate voices among the Palestinians who want to pursue the path of politics, not the path of violence'. If Northern Ireland has taught us anything, it must be that anger and violence fill the vacuum left by the failure of politics. The government should also put pressure on Israel to cease the blockade, challenge their uncompromising approach and not simply wait for the US to lead. We must use our influence in the international community to press for the peace process to begin.

Many of my constituents have contacted me in the last week to express their concern at the latest appalling violence, but they are just some of the millions of people around the world who badly wish to see lasting peace in the Middle East, a two-state solution, and justice and dignity for the Palestinian people. The UK can help play a role in doing this and I urge the government not to sit on the sidelines.

Paul Blomfield is Labour member of parliament for Sheffield Central and member of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East. He writes in a personal capacity. Follow him on Twitter.

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