The Middle East conflict

Wake to worsening news on Israel and the Lebanon. It makes me feel physically sick to think of what is happening to the ordinary civilians on both sides. Tony Blair’s words from the G8 Summit are really strange – that this is not really to do with Israel and Hezbollah, but rather it’s about the axis of evil with Iran as the string puller in the background. It keeps coming back to this vague references to things we, Jo Public, don’t know or understand are going on. It’s time the government laid this out clearly with evidence. What lies ahead could be so catastrophic that we should know why our leaders say what they say.

When it started last week, the situation seemed redeemable. To me it was unquestionably wrong to kidnap the Israeli soldier – there was bound to be a reaction from Israel in the effort to retrieve that soldier. However, despite Israel’s contention that their destruction of the central power station and the shelling of Gaza is not collective punishment – it certainly appeared to target the many indiscriminately. So whilst I was sympathetic to Israel’s desire to recover their soldier, it is completely unacceptable for Israel to punish the people of Palestine.

There is also the bitter irony that in the name of being tough on terrorism, Israel is doing just what the terrorists want. They want Israel to be provoked, and been provoked it certainly has. Hamas looked like it was being backed into a very difficult (for it) corner over policy towards Israel and a possible Palestinian referendum on future attitude towards Israel. Losing that referendum (as looked likely for Hamas) would have placed it in a very difficult situation – no longer being able to claim to speak for the people of Palestine. But now with some terrorism, provocation, retaliation and escalation, they may get off the hook as violence spirals upwards and the referendum idea dies. Let’s hope not.

My personal position is and has always been to a commitment to a safe homeland for both Israel and Palestine. It is truly time for both sides to stop retaliating for endless wrongs and start negotiating their way to a settled peace for both nations. And it is the duty of the West to use its power and its influence to bring both to the table – something that Tony Blair and George Bush appear to be failing to drive forward. Unless and until the issues in this region are sorted, agreed, implemented and protected – we will continue to experience the destabilising of the Western world through terrorism.

Blair rolled up his sleeves and pursued peace in Northern Ireland. He has not done that for Israel and Palestine. He should use what time he has left to use his influence with the United States – and together bring both sides together around the table to begin a real journey to peace. That would be a real legacy with which to depart his time in office.

Listening to the Sunday political programs this morning with spokespeople from both the Palestinian and Israeli sides, it is clear that positions are hardening, blame is increasing and arguments on who started it are deepening. We will never get anywhere in this climate of escalating blame if all we argue about is who did what. This is truly a moment for the leaders of the world states meeting today to stand together and apply enough pressure to stop the atrocities that are killing ordinary people. It has to stop. There is power in the world to force a ceasefire. That has to be the first step. Israel is not going to be annihilated or driven into the sea – and the Palestinians must have a viable and safe state of their own.