Firstly, I want to assure you that I of course want to see a ceasefire in the Middle East as soon as possible, and I think anyone looking at the devastating scenes in Gaza we have seen over the last few weeks would feel this way. This is such an important topic, so I hope you will bear with me while I take the time to explain my thinking on both the issue and the vote on the amendment which you wrote to me about.
I did not come into politics to stand by as death, destruction and suffering on the scale we are seeing in Palestine takes place, and I have thought long and hard about what I can do to give the best chance of bringing to an end the horrifying and unacceptable killing of innocent people that we have seen over the last few weeks, including so many children in Gaza. As I made clear to the Government this week in an intervention in Parliament which you can watch here, the conditions across Gaza including in hospitals are inhumane and indefensible. An end to the fighting must be our top priority and a meaningful, lasting ceasefire which leads to a negotiated political settlement and a two-state solution with a viable state of Palestine is the only way that we are going to get there.
I understand the frustration and anger of those who asked me to back the Scottish National Party’s amendment to the King’s Speech this week. I take my responsibility as your local MP very seriously, and I can assure you that my priority in all of this is to do whatever I think is most likely to prevent further bloodshed and achieve a genuine, lasting peace between Israel and Palestine. I took the decision to support Labour’s amendment to the King’s Speech as I truly believed that it provided a more realistic chance of bringing the violence to an end and achieving a ceasefire that holds, and I will explain why.
The Labour amendment I voted for condemned the fact that there have been far too many deaths of innocent civilians and children in Gaza and set out the need for “an enduring cessation of fighting as soon as possible and a credible, diplomatic and political process to deliver the lasting peace of a two-state solution”, as well calling for an immediate end to the siege conditions in Gaza, for essentials like water, food, fuel, electricity and medicine to get to the Palestinians, and for the fighting to stop to allow the free flow of desperately and urgently needed humanitarian aid. The amendment I voted for also called for international law to be followed by and enforced on all parties, a guarantee that fleeing Gazans can return to their homes, and an end to the expansion of illegal settlements and settler violence in the West Bank.
The UN definition of a ceasefire is “a suspension of fighting agreed upon by the parties to a conflict” which is “intended to be long-term” and usually aims “to allow parties to engage in dialogue, including the possibility of reaching a permanent political settlement”. While I can assure you that this outcome is absolutely what I want to see as soon as possible, at the moment the two parties which would need to agree upon the suspension of fighting – Israel and Hamas – will not accept it. Hamas has said that they will continue to attack civilians in the manner they did on 7th October “again and again” and continues to hold innocent hostages and fire rockets at civilian areas, and Israel won’t accept a ceasefire as long as this is the case. There is tragically no prospect for an immediate ceasefire of the kind the Scottish National Party’s amendment called for, as has been acknowledged by the UN’s humanitarian coordinator who has said that right now humanitarian pauses are “the only viable option” to get the necessary relief into Gaza and alleviate suffering.
Though I want to see a ceasefire as soon as possible, I do not believe it is in the interest of the suffering Palestinian people for me to vote for something that we know cannot happen right now, when I could be voting for solutions that actually have a chance of being accepted and alleviating the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. Securing a full, immediate humanitarian pause is the only substantial, practical step that the parties in this conflict might accept at this stage, and therefore putting pressure on them to do this is, in my view, the best way I can try to help the Palestinians. It is also, in my opinion, the only viable way that we can start to create the necessary pre-conditions for a genuine, lasting ceasefire and a two-state solution, which I believe is the only route to a Palestinian state and the peace that you and I want to see.
There is more agreement on this issue than much of the framing of it suggests as I know from my discussions in recent weeks that my Labour colleagues and I all want to see an end to the fighting and death of civilians in Gaza as soon as possible, even if we may disagree on exactly what role the UK Government and Parliament can play in getting there. The Scottish National Party’s amendment was very similar to Labour’s, including in demanding that Hamas release hostages and Israel end the siege of Gaza. However, their amendment did not mention the role of the International Criminal Court in holding parties to account for war crimes, nor did it specifically call on Israel to protect hospitals, both of which are essential steps to safeguard civilian life and infrastructure in Gaza. The amendment also did not directly address the awful settler violence we have seen in the West Bank, nor did it call for a guarantee that people in Gaza who have been forced to flee during this conflict are allowed to return to their homes, which is essential.
An amendment that calls for an immediate ceasefire has to confront the tragic reality that, at this moment in time, neither party to the conflict will accept it. My overwhelming wish is to see the bloodshed stop as soon as possible, and I truly believe that the Labour amendment was the most constructive one in support of that principle and a realistic roadmap to peace. While I considered it very carefully, I decided not to vote for an amendment that I felt was an empty gesture towards an unrealistic outcome and lacked the necessary substance and practical steps to help those Palestinians suffering so horrendously as quickly as possible. I can assure you that I have raised my concerns about the appalling situation in Gaza and breaches of international law directly with Ministers including in Parliament and in a letter to the Foreign Secretary, and I have taken every opportunity to raise the views of my constituents including on a ceasefire with my colleagues who lead on foreign affairs in Parliament including the Shadow Foreign Secretary and Labour Leader.
As a mother of two, I cannot imagine what it must be like to lose a child or raise a child in the dire conditions we can see in Gaza, and heartbreakingly we know that this is the unimaginable situation for so many Palestinian families. All human life is equal, and I can assure you that I will always do what I believe has the best chance of preventing bloodshed and is in the best interests of people facing this appalling suffering, wherever they are. My Labour colleagues and I will continue to do everything we can to push for an end to the fighting, the punishment of war crimes in this conflict, and peace in the region that is based on the creation of a state of Palestine – something I have called for my entire life and argued for in Parliament ever since I was elected as your MP.
I have received thousands of emails on this topic in recent days and weeks, and I am doing my best to reply to each one as quickly and personally as I can. However, if there are any points from your email that you feel I have not addressed in my response or further questions you would like to ask or concerns you would like to raise about this, please write to me again and I will get back to you as soon as I can.
Thank you once again for writing to me about this important and harrowing issue, and for taking the time to read my lengthy response. If there is ever anything I can help with or write to you about as a constituent, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me again.
Tulip Siddiq MP
Member of Parliament for Hampstead and Kilburn
Shadow Economic Secretary to the Treasury (City Minister)