Six months ago Operation Protective Edge came to an end, bringing to a close 51 days of bloody fighting between the IDF and Hamas.
In Britain, the war provoked strong reactions and it was deeply divisive.
Some argued that the IDF reaction was disproportionate, without specifying what would be considered proportionate. While others took the view that Israel was exercising its right to self-defence; a right which any British government would feel duty bound to exercise if 75 per cent of our country were under rocket and mortar attack and daily life was disrupted with people rushing to air-raid shelters.
To that backdrop I secured a debate in the UK Parliament last week.
My intention was not to, as we have done all-too-frequently when debating the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, rehearse familiar arguments about the past.
Instead, my debate was intended to talk in very practical terms about the future: about the fact that, while Gaza is in desperate need of reconstruction, the priority of Hamas is restocking its arsenal of rockets and mortars; rebuilding its terror tunnels; and recruiting more teenagers and young men into its so called ‘new popular army’.
As I said in the debate, this is Hamas’ education policy: teaching the young people of Gaza to kill and indoctrinating them to hate.
I recognised the fact that while the Palestinian Authority and Hamas argue over salaries and who controls what, and with access to Egypt completely closed, Israel has allowed 43,000 residents from Gaza to purchase building materials for personal use.
We need to see those urgent reconstruction efforts continue and increase, but we all know that they are not the basis for a longer-term peace or prosperity for Gaza.
Lives of Gazans must be improved and reconstruction alone is insufficient.
The international community and neighbouring countries have their role to play but a huge responsibility lies in the hands of Israel and Egypt; whose restrictions on the movement of people and goods still hinder prospects of much-needed economic development.
However, I see and recognise both countries’ concerns; they have to be given credible guarantees about their own security and assurances that Gaza will no longer be used as a base for terrorist activity.
During each of the three wars which Hamas has provoked over the past six years, the international community has been very quick to call for a ceasefire, but slow to deliver on its promises of demilitarisation.
These actions don’t instil confidence.
The demilitarisation of Gaza – as set out in the Oslo Accords and as set out in every subsequent diplomatic initiative as well as being underscored with support from President Abbas – is the only stable foundation upon which a better future for both the peoples of Gaza and Israel can be built.
So, alongside my parliamentary colleagues in Labour Friends of Israel, I am urging the British government to take some very practical steps.
First, we proscribed Hamas’ military wing in Britain in 2001. I think the evidence is now overwhelming that the government must urgently consider extending this ban to its political wing.
I’ll always support the right of those with whom I profoundly disagree to make their case in Britain; but that right is not an unconditional one. If you advocate terrorism and incite violence, you forfeit those rights.
And, of course, I support the British Government’s efforts to ensure the al-Qassam Brigades remains on the European Union’s list of terrorist organisations.
Second, Britain has a seat on the UN security council. I want to see our Government use it to assemble an international coalition to stop the rearmament of Hamas and begin its disarmament. We need to see a new resolution which imposes sanctions on any nation that attempts to resupply Hamas and other militants in Gaza with weapons and money.
We know that Iran – which only last November publicly threatened to arm the West Bank like Gaza – has every intention of attempting to fan the flames of war. I have asked the British government for a pledge that the push to secure a nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic does not lessen the pressure on Tehran to cease its destabilising policies in the region.
Third, I’m under no illusion that Hamas will meekly hand over its weapons. That’s why we need to build a broad international coalition – with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the Quartet, Egypt, Jordan and the Arab League – to present Hamas with a clear choice: let the disarmament inspectors into Gaza and let them do their job; and in return, the international community, Israel and the Palestinian unity Government will immediately begin the work needed to ensure Gaza’s reconstruction and future prosperity.
I support the plan of Labor MK Omer Barlev for a robust staged disarmament mechanism in return for economic development. Development which must be designed to open up Gaza and reconnect it with the world.
Such a mechanism will involve the gradual lifting of Israel and Egypt’s ‘blockade’ and – at the end of the process and so long as disarmament has been completed and satisfactorily verified – the building of an airport and a seaport in Gaza can be delivered. What a prize that could be.
But sadly, the debate about Israel-Palestine internationally is too often dominated by grandstanding and gestures and conducted in a language of villains and victims.
Last week, in the House of Commons, it was in some respects no different, however, as a Labour politician I refuse to be dragooned into supporting a position which can only damage the interests of Palestinians, through a warped version of peer pressure.
I’ll persevere with my vision of the future because it’s the only realistic way forward.
It’s time to break out of the futile discourse which sees us interminably go round the same old debates and it’s time for the international community to replace words with deeds.
I’m pushing for Britain to lead the way in doing so.