GARY KENT argues that humanitarian pauses are the best hope at this moment to relieve the suffering in Gaza, before they can be turned into truces or a ceasefire and political settlement.
We are all weeping at the terrible scenes in Israel and Gaza. Let’s recall the moving stanza in WH Auden’s emotional poem, ‘The Shield of Achilles’:
“The mass and majesty of this world, all
That carries weight and always weighs the same
Lay in the hands of others; they were small
And could not hope for help and no help came:
What their foes like to do was done, their shame
Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride
And died as men before their bodies died.”
The next question is: what should be done about the unbearable suffering in Israel and Gaza?
The ILP has a proud record in another, albeit smaller and less bloody, conflict that revolved around competing rights, aspirations, and ancestral voices on narrow ground: Northern Ireland.
From the 1970s to the end of the century, the ILP refused to take a one-sided approach that ignored a complex history. It refused the hard-left’s false framing of Northern Ireland as a failed, artificial, and Orange state, although there were grains of truth in that. And it refused to endorse demands such as Troops Out Now which would have given an advantage to paramilitary groups.
The ILP did its best to join Catholics and Protestants in their quest for common humanity based on class politics. It empathised with working class Protestants and Catholics and helped support the formulas that now allow them to live peaceful lives.
The same principles apply in the Middle East. Yes, we all want to see a ceasefire or, as Jon Lansman rightly and wisely argues, we should strive for a stable ceasefire.
Many of those marching are horrified by the death and destruction and go along with the demand for a ceasefire now. In my opinion, Keir Starmer rightly rejects this. It is, I believe, an emotional spasm that makes people feel good but has no traction.
Nor should we have any truck with hard-left placards that stress “A Free Palestine, from the river to the Sea” as there is no space within that call for Israel, which is a legitimate state founded by the UN for good reasons.
Writing in New Left Review in 1967, Marxist historian Isaac Deutscher devised a powerful metaphor, which is still vital: “A man once jumped from the top floor of a burning house in which many members of his family had already perished. He managed to save his life; but as he was falling he hit a person standing down below and broke that person’s legs and arms. The jumping man had no choice; yet to the man with the broken limbs he was the cause of his misfortune. If both behaved rationally, they would not become enemies.”
Many argue that UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967 means Israel is defying international law. But it actually affirmed that just and lasting peace in the Middle East requires the simultaneous application of two processes:
“(i) Withdrawal of Israeli Armed Forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;
(ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognised boundaries free from threat or acts of force.”
A ceasefire now is not feasible. It won’t be stable. Hamas doesn’t want a ceasefire, and will repeat its rape and rampages if it can. Israel cannot ignore this existential threat or the fate of more than 200 men, women and children who have been cruelly abducted.
But the US and its allies are also right to argue for respect for the laws of war. Thousands of Gazans, innocent people, have died and their lives are miserable. There is no set sequence for doing this but my suggestion is that humanitarian pauses are the best beginning in the hope that they can relieve the suffering before they can be turned into truces or a ceasefire and political settlement.
As in Northern Ireland, we all know the eventual shape of the deal. There it was power-sharing and in the Israel/Palestine context, it is a two-state solution. It’s impossible for Hamas to be part of this settlement. We also know that Benjamin Netanyahu is not a leader who can be part of this long overdue settlement. He has to go, as it seems most Israelis now agree.
Parliamentarians who broke collective responsibility are entitled to do so and carry the consequences in party discipline. Confused thinking does no good in the Middle East. If Labour is to be a positive force in foreign policy, in opposition or in government, it must stick to the principles the ILP rightly pioneered in Northern Ireland. It won’t be easy but it has to be done.
Gary Kent has been a Labour Party member since 1976 and has worked in Parliament since 1987. He was secretary of the Socialist Committee on Ireland and now focusses on Iraqi Kurdistan and Labour foreign policy. He writes a monthly column for Progressive Britain.
This article is part of a debate on the Israel-Palestine conflict. As such, it reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the ILP or its National Administrative Council.