MP warns of Middle East ‘disaster’

Mike Gapes MP, the chairman of the Commons’ foreign-affairs committee, this week said that he was “very pessimistic” about the prospect of a breakthrough towards an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement this year.

“There are two reasons for that,” he told a Jewish Labour Movement event in London on Sunday to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary.

“One is the violence and the rockets fired by Hamas into Sderot and other towns in the south of Israel. The second is the bitter power struggle between the Palestinians and within the Palestinian organisations, between the secular Fatah and the Islamist Hamas.”

But he said that everyone, especially America, needed to do more to help “those brave voices” among Israelis and Palestinians pressing for a two-state solution — “because the alternative is disaster whereby the conflict continues and in time Israel will not remain a Jewish state if it has to occupy millions of Palestinians”.

In a message to the group, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that the commitments of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to continue the Annapolis peace talks “have allowed the process to remain alive despite the actions of those who seek to undermine it with violence.”

Professor Naomi Chazan, former deputy speaker of the Knesset, told the 130-strong audience that she believed that Mr Olmert faced a stark choice between peace and war if he wanted to continue in office: either securing a peace agreement with the Palestinians or launching a “mini-incursion” into Gaza.

“For 60 years, the difference between war and peace has been razor-thin,” she said. “So razor-thin that we are virtually on the brink of losing the ability to assure the future of the state of Israel through implementing a two-state solution.

“Israel will not survive unless there is a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel,” she added.

Despite the sombre assessments of Israel’s challenge, there was also celebration of the country’s achievements. Guests — including Ralph Fox, the new mayor of Brent, and Labour’s newly elected Greater London Assembly member Navin Shah — sang Hatikvah and the Red Flag before enjoying lunch accompanied by a klezmer duo.

    Last updated: 11:54am, June 12 2008