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Editorial People power can stop Israel's war – and change British policy on Palestine

GAZA’S nightmare has begun again. As Israel resumes its relentless bombing, it orders civilians to flee — from the very southern areas it previously told them to flee to.

Rishi Sunak pleads pathetically for further “sustained humanitarian pauses” in an indiscriminate bombardment that has killed 15,000 people, two-thirds women and children.

But this actively facilitates what looks increasingly like an ethnic cleansing operation. Israel ordered everyone out of northern Gaza as it pounded it to smithereens. During the six-day truce, it refused permission for Palestinians to return to their homes in the north. 

Now, as it rains death on the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, it drops leaflets telling the people to evacuate. Where to? Gaza’s two million-plus residents, crowded from the start into a tiny, besieged strip of land 25 miles long and between three and seven wide, are being herded into an ever smaller area. 

What then? Will Israel let them go home? It says it will eliminate Hamas, which has ruled the Strip since 2007, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will not allow the Palestinian Authority, which has nominal control — under Israeli military occupation — of the West Bank, to take control of Gaza. 

We shouldn’t expect him to. Netanyahu has vowed there will never be a Palestinian state on his watch. To members of his Likud party in 2019, he admitted deliberately “bolstering” Hamas to ensure Palestine remains divided between two rival leaderships. He would hardly use this invasion to reunite the two Palestinian territories under one administration.

More likely, with Netanyahu’s vow of open-ended “security control” of the Strip, is refusal to allow Palestinians in Gaza to return to their homes, just as their parents and grandparents have been denied their right of return under international law to the homes they were driven from in what is now Israel back in 1948. The aim, as allies of Netanyahu have stated openly, being their final expulsion from historic Palestine.

Can we stop this? Yes. 

Israel was forced into the six-day truce by international pressure, itself a reflection of the impact of global protests — not least in Britain.

Western leaders are more qualified in their backing for Israel than a month ago. Britain and the US have protested at the rise in settler attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank.

And the fact that a truce was possible makes the resumption of killing harder to bear. This should inspire further, even larger mobilisations on our streets to say if the fighting can stop for six days, it can stop for longer: long enough for real talks.

China, chairing the UN security council, proposed on Wednesday a five-point plan for peace. Besides an immediate ceasefire and measures to prevent the forced displacement of Palestinians, it called for a UN-led peace conference aimed at “establishment of an independent state of Palestine that enjoys full sovereignty based on the 1967 border and with East Jerusalem as its capital,” already the internationally agreed position.

The Labour Party, which under Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn pledged recognition of a Palestinian state if elected, has rowed back on that commitment, saying this should not be done unilaterally

But the multilateral appetite for recognition already exists: Britain would be joining the global majority by recognising Palestine and pushing for a conference along the lines China has suggested.

The Palestine solidarity movement has seen off a home secretary. It has moderated the government’s all-out support for a murderous war. It can do more: raise pressure to recognise a Palestinian state and get serious about ending the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, which is not hypothetical but has continued across the West Bank for decades.

For the left, the first step in this process must be to force Labour to resume the support for Palestine it had the courage to express under previous leaders.

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