Ceasefire now

Ming Campbell published the following article in the Guardian’s Comment is free on July 19, 2006

We are witnessing the serious destabilisation of the Middle East. It has the potential to deteriorate still further. My view is that the security council of the United Nations must call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. The indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hizbullah is wholly unacceptable, as is the targeted destruction of the infrastructure of Lebanon by the Israeli government. While these activities persist there is scope only for the violence to escalate.

I wholly recognise that the state of Israel has both a moral and a legal right to live in peace within recognised and secure borders. But that does not justify military action that is disproportionate. Hundreds have been killed by Israeli action in Gaza and Lebanon, and thousands more have been forced to flee.

Collective punishment is being inflicted on innocent civilians in Gaza and in Lebanon. Yet the foreign secretary has been reluctant to describe Israeli action as disproportionate. This is not only in violation of international law, it also goes against Israel’s own self interest. The long-term security of Israel depends on a just and lasting settlement, which provides for a two state solution. Disproportionate military action can only strengthen the militants and generate further insecurity for Israel. If the government of Lebanon falls, a vacuum will be created which Hizbullah will try to fill.

Equally, Hamas and Hizbullah must immediately release the Israeli prisoners unharmed. Each must renounce violence and recognise the state of Israel.

One should also not forget the growing humanitarian crisis in both Gaza and Lebanon. The Red Cross has already warned that the situation in Gaza, where there is now an 80% poverty rate, risks turning from disaster into a humanitarian catastrophe. The bombardment of Lebanon too raises real concerns.

The EU is Israel’s largest trading partner and provides it with substantial trade and technical benefits. It should therefore ensure that it fulfils by commitment to the Association Agreement to observe human rights and democratic principles.

The priority must be to ensure an immediate ceasefire. It is only once a ceasefire has been delivered that we can look towards solutions. Long-term solutions should be delivered through a regional conference facilitated by the Quartet (EU, UN, Russia and the US) that engages all the states in the region.

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