Like so many people in Plymouth I am deeply distressed by the unceasing violence and loss of innocent lives in Gaza and Israel. My heart breaks with every adherent image of death and destruction.
Every MP wants to see an end to the violence – we only differ slightly on how best to achieve that end. As you will know, votes in the House of Commons do not have any effect on either Hamas or Israel but I understand why people feel strongly about this issue and why the votes matter to people.
There were four votes on amendments to the King’s speech. I think it is important to understand what I voted for – not just what I could not support – as this amendment motion includes much of the requests people have been writing to me about. Labour’s motion had ten main points:
1. Cessation of fighting. The motion called for longer humanitarian pauses to allow in aid and movement of civilians as a necessary step to an enduring cessation of fighting as soon as possible. The short pauses begun in the last week are welcome but too short to allow proper flows of aid in. As Hamas continues to attack Israel by firing missiles at civilian homes and Israel has stated it will continue fighting to free hostages an immedaite ceasefire is not likely at this time. For a ceasefire to work three things need to happen. Firstly, both sides must want to stop fighting and neither do. Secondly, someone must be trusted by both sides sufficiently to negotiate a ceasefire and there is not someone able to do this at this time. Thirdly, someone must be able to enforce the ceasefire on the ground and there is no one willing to do that yet. This means that despite being preferable it is not possible to happen immediately. I see immediate humanitarian pauses as the nearest possible next step which will save lives, and a nceessary stepping stone towards a full cessation of fighting. I wish we could jump forward to get to that position now but that is not possible. I would prefer to be honest with people about the realities of what is possible and what is not. I appreciate people seeing the horrors on our screens want to end the violence now but a ceasefire now – even if it was possible – would freeze the conflict, allow Hamas time to regroup and would not free the hostages. To be blunt, there are no easy options, there are no quick routes to peace and there are no votes that could stop people dying. We all want to see an end to the violence, we only differ about how to get there with the next immediate step.
2. Seek a credible, diplomatic and political process to deliver the lasting peace of a two state solution. This means a viable Palestinian state that unites Gaza and the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority alongside a safe and secure Israel. Without a peace process there can never be a durable and lasting peace which will truly save lives and allow people to live free from conflict. Although it seems far off now, the international community has neglected to act to press for a two state solution for too long. That diplomatic effort needs to start now, not after the war has concluded, but immediately.
3. Condemnation of the horrific attacks by Hamas on civilians which murdered over 1,400 people on 7 October.
4. Release of the hostages. Labour’s amendment called for the immediate release of over 200 hostages still being held by Hamas in Gaza having been kidnapped from Israel on 7 October.
5. All Human life is equal. Labour’s motion asserted that all human life is equal and that there has been too much suffering. Too many Palestinians have been killed and too many children have been killed in Gaza. I have been clear about this since Israel’s military operation began and have said this on national TV and radio in the last week.
6. Respect for international law. The motion I voted for reasserted the UK’s commitment to the rules-based international order, humanitarian law and the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court to address the conduct of all parties. I understand this point may be the reason why the Government whipped its MPs to vote against the amendment motion as they do not recognise the ICC’s jurisdiction in Gaza. Israel has a right to self-defence but that right is not a blank cheque. Israel must submit to international law, with every step taken to protect civilians from bombardment. Where allegations are made that international law has been broken those must be investigated.
7. Lift the siege. The Labour amendment called on Israel to protect hospitals and life the siege conditions allowing food, water, electricity, medicine and fuel into Gaza. It is unacceptable that Israel has not done this to date despite enormous diplomatic efforts from countries like the UK and USA to do so.
8. Prevent escalation. The motion requested the UK government continues to work with the international community to prevent a wider escalation of the conflict in the region.
9. Right to return home. The motion, and my frontbench colleagues, have been clear that people who are forced to flee Gaza during the conflict must be able to return to their homes after the war is over. This part of the motion rejects the idea of permanent displacement of the Palestinian people from Gaza which I know has been a point of concern to a number of people who have contacted me.
10. End illegal settlement expansion. The amendment stated my party’s long-held position that we need to see an immediate end of the expansion of illegal settlements and settler violence in the West Bank.
I would prefer to be honest about the position than simply agree with a fine moral position that cannot, as it stands today, be achieved. I believe those arguing for pauses and those arguing for a ceasefire are doing so from good moral standpoints. I don’t doubt the integrity of those making either argument as we are all trying to save lives. My assessment is that one is more likely to happen sooner than the other. Of course, once you have achieved a series of pauses, it makes getting to a cessation of violence easier. I believe we need to be more honest with people that achieving people is not a single event or a binary choice but a process, a hard and difficult process. It won’t begin with a ceasefire, but that is where we need to get to and humanitarian pauses helps get there. That’s the hard and difficult reality of how violence ends in conflicts like this.
I am continuing to make representations to those in leadership roles in my own party and the Government about the war in Gaza and I am grateful for people taking so much time, and putting so much thought into the correspondence they are sending me. Thank you. This is a really difficult situation. There are no easy solutions that save lives on the ground – that frustration you feel, I feel too. People sometimes think that being an elected MP means I have the power to stop things they don’t like. I wish I did. If votes in the Commons could stop wars being fought by other countries and groups, I would happily vote for ceasefires all day, but you and I know that they can’t. So that is why I prefer to put my efforts into what can be done not what we would like to do in an ideal world.
I appreciate passions are high about this issue. I want to see an end to the violence and longer humanitarian pauses begun immediately. Aid must get into Gaza and we must restart efforts for a lasting and durable peace with a two state solution.
As ever, you can contact me on email@example.com