Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labor opposition and favorite to be the next prime minister of the United Kingdom, called on Tuesday for a “humanitarian pause” in the war in Gaza, but assured that a more permanent ceasefire would now be ineffective and could cause more violence.
“A ceasefire always freezes any conflict where it is. Right now, that would leave Hamas with the infrastructure and capacity for the type of attack we saw on October 7. The attacks would continue. The hostages who must be released would continue to be held. Hamas would be emboldened and would begin preparing new attacks immediately,” Starmer said in a long-awaited speech at Chatham House, a think tank in London. He also called for “pauses in the war” for “clear and specific humanitarian objectives” as “the only credible approach to alleviating Palestinian suffering, distributing aid quickly and making room for the release of hostages.” Starmer assured that this is also the position of the United States and the European Union.
The Labor leader said that Israel cannot have “a blank check”, that “every life matters” and that Palestinian civilians “caught in the crossfire” should not suffer from bombings and water and electricity cuts. He repeatedly spoke of “both tragedies” and condemned the anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks in the United Kingdom and the fear that both communities are feeling in public.
Furthermore, the politician defended both in his speech and in question time “the two-state solution”, which he said would be his priority if he were Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (he is the favorite for the next general elections, which are expected in 2024). .
Division in the party
The Labor leader is trying to unify the message of his party, which is divided on the issue and faces an internal rebellion by deputies and other public representatives. At least a dozen politicians in senior positions in the party have called for a ceasefire. So have the Labor mayors of London, Sadiq Khan, and Manchester, Andy Burnham. Several councilors have resigned in protest at Starmer’s lack of criticism in an interview a few days ago of Israel’s water and electricity cuts in Gaza. In his speech this Tuesday Starmer did condemn the blockade.
Israel, according to the Labor leader, “has to act in accordance with international law”, but “it is not the role of politicians” to say whether it is doing so now and it is “extremely reckless” to talk about something that will be clarified “with the time” in legal processes.
Questioned by the press about the division in his party, Starmer commented that the important thing is that there is “unity” on the need for humanitarian aid to Gaza and the long-term solution on the coexistence of two states. But his initial defense of Israel when questioned in an interview about the water and electricity cuts caused resignations in the party.
“Like all decent people, we are devastated by Hamas’ atrocities in Israel. However, we are outraged by Starmer’s words,” he told the newspaper. Oxford Mail Shaista Aziz, Oxford councillor, after resigning as a member of the Labor Party and remaining in her position as an independent. Amar Latif, the other Oxford Labor councilor who resigned, commented that Starmer fears “losing votes” if he is more critical of Israel. Current polls reflect a greater division among Labor voters in recent weeks compared to their views before this war.
When asked by the YouGov pollster on October 19 and 20 whether they are inclined to support Palestinians or Israelis more, the majority of Britons have no opinion or say they support both equally. Among those who choose a side, the majority do so for the Israelis (contrary to the trend until July, where the majority of those who had a clearer opinion leaned towards the Palestinians).
Labor is the one that now shows more support for both parties or has no opinion; Among those who choose a side, the majority do so for the Palestinians, although this support has decreased a few points compared to that reflected in the polls until July. On the other hand, there are more conservatives who support Israelis than Palestinians, 35% of respondents compared to 8%.
While Starmer was giving his speech, a group of people protested at the doors of the Chatham House building in London with choruses of “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, a common slogan in pro-Palestinian protests and which suggests the disappearance From Israel. The Labor Party suspended an MP, Andy McDonald, for using this expression during a protest at the weekend.