As Liberal Democrats, we have always stood in support of a lasting peace and a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine. In the face of the horrific violence of the last few weeks, we are clear that a lasting peace is the only way to guarantee the dignity and security which both Palestinians and Israelis deserve.
Hamas’ terrorist attacks on October 7th shocked the world. We condemned them and the taking of hostages, unequivocally. Hamas cannot, for the security of Israelis nor the future of Palestinians, be allowed to continue in charge of Gaza.
Right now we have a disaster. When I met with NGOs working on the ground in Gaza, they told me just how devastating a humanitarian catastrophe we are facing.
Thousands of innocent civilians have already been killed, including thousands of children. I met the Palestinian Ambassador just days ago - tragically he had lost family members. I passed on my condolences on behalf of the Liberal Democrats to all Palestinians.
And the humanitarian crisis just seems to get worse. Essential supplies like water, food, medicine and fuel still remain in very short supply or totally cut off from Gaza. And over 200 people are still held hostage, including children. And the risk of regional escalation grows by the day, underlined by the fact that the UK withdrew diplomatic staff from Lebanon earlier this week.
More than a month since Hamas’ atrocities, it is increasingly clear that a military solution to eliminate Hamas is not possible. Nor is it tenable for Israel to reoccupy Gaza.
Only a sustained political and diplomatic solution will resolve this conflict and deliver a lasting peace. We urgently need movement towards that solution now.
But how? The answer is via an immediate bilateral ceasefire.
It is important to be clear. Some who call for a ceasefire really seem to mean freezing the conflict. But that’s not acceptable. It leaves Hamas in place in Gaza.
My meeting with families whose loved ones are, right now, being held hostage in Gaza made it very clear to me that such an outcome is unacceptable. And so too is it unacceptable for Palestinians. They deserve a state of their own, and security, just as Israelis do too.
Freezing the conflict doesn’t look to the future and will do nothing to bring about that long term security.
That’s why a ceasefire cannot be an end in itself, even though it is very clearly needed now to stop the bloodshed and trauma for Palestinians and Israelis. It is temporary by its very definition: it is a step towards peace. And it is contingent upon both parties sticking to it. If one party breaks the ceasefire, a military option remains on the table.
I am not naive about the difficulties involved in getting to this position - it may require a cessation in hostilities, as we have already called for, to create the basis for a ceasefire, and we welcome any progress however small towards this goal, including the hours in specific areas committed to by Israel. Nor will it be easy to rid Gaza of Hamas.
Maximum pressure now needs to be applied on all parties, with tough conditions carefully monitored and verified. That will require a huge and sustained effort from the international community and the UN, with a particular role to be played by Arab neighbours.
Our job – and the job of the whole international community – is to bring an end to this conflict, and stop the killing of thousands of innocent civilians, while ensuring that we do not return to how things were before October 7th.
Movement towards a political solution, putting us back on the path to two states, is needed more than ever.
Right now, we simply cannot afford not to try.