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Starmer Calls For Immediate Ceasefire In Gaza

The Labour leader’s intervention marks a change of tone regarding the Israel-Hamas War 

In a speech to the Scottish Labour Conference in Glasgow, Keir Starmer said, “Fighting must stop now.”.

Arguing that Israel should not continue with its military offensive in Gaza, the Labour leader said to Labour members on Sunday: “The offensive threatened Rafah—a place where 1.5 million people are now cramped together in unimaginable conditions with nowhere else for them to go—this cannot become a new theater of war. That offensive cannot happen.”

On Wednesday, the Scottish National Party (SNP) will propose an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, which will be voted on in the House of Commons.

Following the October 7 attacks on Israel, in which Hamas terrorists killed over 1,200 people, Starmer initially supported Israel’s siege of Gaza, saying that the country had a right to defend itself.

In late October last year, Starmer argued against a ceasefire, saying that it would “freeze the conflict.” This caused outrage among some in the Labour Party, with at least 330 Labour councilors writing a letter to him urging him to back a ceasefire in Gaza. At the time, Starmer doubled down, reasoning that a ceasefire would benefit Hamas.

This week, however, Labour has U-turned on its previous stance, with Starmer discussing with Shadow Cabinet ministers whether the party should vote for the SNP motion.

Appearing on TalkTV on Monday, Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said Israel has gone “too far” in its response to the October 7 atrocity. This is despite evidence that Hamas still holds 130 Israeli hostages in captivity, with one-quarter expected to be dead.

“We want to see a ceasefire; of course we do.

“And we have been increasingly concerned, as the wider international community has been, with the disproportionate loss of civilian life in Gaza.”

The Labour Party’s change of stance comes as Israel’s military continues its assault on Khan Yunis in preparation for its final assault on Rafah, the last remaining stronghold of Hamas, which is also currently sheltering 1.5 million refugees. When the remaining Israeli hostages aren't returned by Ramadan on March 10, Israel will attack this southern Gaza city.

Considering the realities of the war, a change in Labour support for Israel will not affect the trajectory of the war. Even if the SNP’s ceasefire motion is passed in the Commons, it is unlikely that Israel will pay much attention. The UK’s support for Israel has already been more robust than in any previous war the country has fought. Besides, it is the US, not the UK, that is Israel’s main security guarantor.

So far in the conflict, the US has resolutely supported Israel. Recently, however, the US has called for a temporary ceasefire and warned against invading Rafah.

Labor’s amendment to the motion notes that Israel “cannot be expected to cease fighting if Hamas continues with violence.” So, even if the motion passes, it will not demand Israel unilaterally stop its assault. Instead, any future ceasefire will be conditional on Hamas either laying down arms or returning the Israeli hostages.

Rather than Labour’s changing stance coming from a desire to end the conflict itself, Starmer’s U-turn may be more about appealing to British voters, who overwhelmingly desire a peaceful solution to the conflict.

According to YouGov polling, 66 percent of the British public think Israel should stop military action in Gaza. This compares with 13 percent who think Israel should continue to take military action. Additionally, 45 percent think that Israel’s attack on Gaza from October onwards is not justified, compared with 24 percent who think it is justified.

Since the October 7 attacks on Israel, support for Palestine has shot up from 15 percent to 29 percent among the British public. Meanwhile, support for Israel has decreased from 21 percent to 16 percent.

Thinking strategically, then, Labour’s shift away from supporting Israel makes sense electorally since there are more votes to be won by supporting Palestine. 

It is also possible, however, that by supporting the SNP motion, Starmer is trying to contain divisions in the party and avoid a humiliating revolt by Labour MPs. For a long time, Israel-Palestine has been a contentious issue for the party, with several MPs being disciplined for making anti-Semitic comments.

As recently as last week, Starmer decided to disown Labour’s candidate for the Rochdale by-election, Azhar Ali, because of anti-Semitic remarks he made at a Labour meeting suggesting that Israel deliberately allowed Hamas to carry out the 7th October pogrom. Labour parliamentary candidate Graham Jones was also suspended after he was recorded using the words “f****** Israel” at the same meeting. Mr Jones also argued that British people volunteering to fight for the Israel Defence Forces should be “locked up”.

With Labour currently polling at 44 per cent, it appears that anti-Semitism allegations have not significantly dented the party’s image. 

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