Nick Clegg: Israel must open talks with Hamas to bring peace

Writing for The Guardian on the violence in the Middle East, Nick Clegg says:

The daily images of human torment in Gaza have been harrowing and heartbreaking. More than 1,000 Palestinian civilians have been killed. Were it not for international aid rations, half the population would be without food. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are seeking shelter in UN schools – and even these offer little safety…

The Israeli government may feel it has gained the upper hand with its most recent show of strength, but it should know from past experience that any feeling of stability will be short-lived.

I applaud Israel’s former president Shimon Peres, who has broken ranks in recent days to call for an end to military action. More Israeli and Palestinian politicians should find the courage to follow suit. If Israel wants to secure lasting safety for its people, it must use political will, not military might, to break the cycle of violence…

Hamas is vulnerable and broke. Until forming the unity government with Fatah a few months ago, it could not pay the salaries of doctors and teachers, and faced growing discontent from ordinary Gazans. Hamas is isolated in the Arab world, and Israel cannot destroy militant Palestinian opposition – that much we have seen – but it does now have an opportunity to drive a wedge between Hamas’s political and military wings. An unexpected act of political magnanimity, rather than sporadic military reprisal, would also garner Israel international support…

Modern history teaches that you can’t shoot, occupy or besiege your way to lasting security. Peace only ever flows from sustained and stubborn engagement. The Queen shaking hands with Martin McGuinness two years ago reminded us that even the most intractable conflicts can be resolved.

However, this is only possible when enemies acknowledge the futility of conflict and meet face to face.

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