Anthony Browne MP is Chair of the 1922 Treasury Committee, a former member of the Treasury Select Committee, and on the advisory board of the Institute of Fiscal Studies.
It will be the most grinding urban warfare seen since the Second World War, with densely populated tower blocks, networks of tunnels and booby-trapped buildings. There are no real winners in this apocalyptic conflict, with horrendously suffering civilian populations on both sides. But the Israeli army has prepared for years, and its soldiers are well-equipped and well-trained in urban warfare: it seems inevitable that Israel will succeed in its military objectives. Hamas will meet the same fate as its equally medievally barbaric sister-group Isis: oblivion.
Most governments accept Israel’s right to obliterate Hamas after it perpetrated the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust – a terrorist attack an order of magnitude greater for Israel than 9/11 was for the US. Hamas’s apologists in Britain, such as Jeremy Corbyn and many others in the Labour party, fail to realise that it cannot be compromised with: its founding objective is to kill all Jews and destroy Israel.
Hamas is a terrorist group both in law and in fact: babies and grannies do not present any military threat, and the only reason to decapitate them or executive them on Facebook is to create terror. The BBC refusing to call Hamas “terrorists” is not being neutral, it is taking sides with anti-semites.
But the question we need to ask as the conflict escalates is: how can Israel win the peace? Or, to broaden the question: how can the world win the peace? How can ordinary Palestinians have a future where they can bring up their families in safety and comfort?
The UK and US governments are rightly making every effort to ensure the conflict does not spread to other nations. Also, as General Petraeus said, Israel clearly has to avoid the mistake the US made in Iraq, with no plan for what happens after the invasion. The key question is whether Israel will occupy Gaza afterwards to stop Hamas reforming. If so, how? Hamas is currently the governing authority in Gaza – who would replace it?
But to understand what winning the peace means, one has to consider the context and cause of the Hamas attack, which has been virtually ignored in the Western media in the last week.
The ultimate objective of Israel and Western governments in recent decades has obviously been peace in the Middle East, through a two-state solution: Israel and Palestine. Opposed to this have been Hamas and its sponsor, Iran, who are determined to see Israel destroyed as a nation.
But as I wrote before for ConservativeHome after a recent trip to Israel, extraordinary progress has been made towards a peaceful settlement over the last five years. There is not just growing recognition of Israel in the Arab world, but growing normalisation of relations between Arab countries and Israel, with full diplomatic, trade, security, scientific and cultural links.
The Abraham Accords of 2020 (probably the main achievement of the Trump presidency) saw the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco normalise relations with Israel. The busiest flights from Tel Aviv are to Dubai, as Emiratis and Israelis visit eachothers’ countries for business and pleasure, and Israeli tourism to Morocco has been booming. Trade between Abraham Accord nations and Israel has soared from $593m in 2019 to $3.47 billion in 2022.
It is difficult to over-emphasise the importance of these agreements, normalising Israel’s position amongst its Arab neighbours. Half a century ago, Arab countries attacked Israel, but now they are trading with it and going on holiday there. The progress is not rapid, but it is profound. Most Arab governments want a stable Middle East, and recognise that will only happen if they work with Israel rather than against it. They have experienced violent Islamist extremism themselves, and generally have little sympathy for Hamas and its terrorism.
But this creeping normalisation of relations between the Arab world and Israel is devastating for Hamas, killing off its dream of destroying Israel. It undermines support for Hamas and the Palestinian leadership in the Arab World, showing them up as isolated because they are interested in conflict rather than peace.
Most significantly. there have been intensive negotiations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the most powerful Arab nation, and equally intense speculation the two nations are on the brink of an agreement. If Saudi Arabia normalised relations with Israel it would be the nail in the coffin of Hamas’s genocidal dream. It seems certain this is why Hamas (supported by Iran) launched their barbaric attack now:
to stop Saudi Arabia normalising relations with Israel, to undermine the Abraham Accords, and to make Israel a pariah again.
It has been reported in the last week that Saudi Arabia has indeed paused its negotiations with Israel – this will be a cause of delight among the Hamas and Iranian leadership. If there is to be any chance of Middle East peace, this must only be a pause and not a termination.
Winning the peace, for Israel and the Middle East, and indeed for ordinary Palestinians, means making sure the Abraham Accords survive this conflict. There are intensive discussions going on between the signatory nations of the Abraham Accords and Israel, and I am told the relations are still rock solid.
Even Arab leaders not facing elections have to heed public opinion, and it would be a travesty if the war was conducted in a way that made it impossible for them to continue supporting the Abraham process. Israel needs to continue making sure it minimises civilian casualties, and obeys international law.
The UK, which has far deeper and wider relations with Arab nations that the US, has rightly been unequivocal in its support of Israel. It is also in a pivotal position to support the Abraham Accord negotiations. But in a recent House of Lords debate, the UK was criticised on a cross-party basis for not engaging with them. There is much we could do to encourage our Arab allies, including Saudi Arabia, to support the Abraham Accords, and now would be an ideal time to do so. The appointment of Simon Walters, the new British Ambassador to Israel, is seen as a positive step.
As the conflict erupts, and horrifies the world, we must not lose sight of the big picture. We need to ensure that Hamas does not succeed in its objective of stopping recent progress towards peace in the Middle East. Ultimately, with the eradication of Hamas, this could in the end turn out to be an opportunity to secure a stable two-station solution. Only the continuation of the Abraham Accords will give Israelis and Palestinians – and the wider Middle East – the peace they so deserve