An enduring solution is needed for the Israel-Gaza conflict so that “innocent Palestinians don't have to die in such horrific circumstances”, Britain’s former chancellor has told The National.
Nadhim Zahawi, 56, has called on Israel and the Palestine Authority to find a viable two-state solution. “Sometimes, out of these horrible, tragic set of circumstances, there has to be a ray of light that we try and coalesce around and I know many leaders in the region feel the same way. Is there a way we can we can find some good to come out of such evil?
“We can come together and find a sustainable long-term settlement, where innocent Palestinians don't have to die in such horrific circumstances, and Israel feels secure and safe enough to be able to support a sustainable two-state solution,” he told The National.
He said the only way to prevent further loss of life was “getting Israel and the Palestinian Authority around the table to try and work out an agenda” that would lead to an internationally acceptable form of government in Gaza.
Mr Zahawi, who was born in Iraq, said UK political leaders and diplomats must “strain every sinew to try and get us to that place” as the only way forward was for regional leaders to come together.
Referencing the 1,400 people being killed in Israel, he said that the “only good to come out of this evil” would be to find a peaceful outcome. About 3,500 Palestinians have been killed, with 12,000 injured since the war began.
“We've got to create an environment that fundamentalists cannot operate in,” Mr Zahawi said, speaking at his Westminster parliamentary office. “These are dark times in the region, not least, because of the Hamas attack but also it's hard not to be moved by the children in Gaza.”
The Conservative MP, who was speaking just two hours before the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital strike that claimed about 500 lives, was asked his reaction if a major tragedy was to hit Gaza.
“That's the great worry, the difficulty with asymmetric warfare is that the fundamentalists will use their communities as a way of trying to legitimise their murderous acts,” he said.
“We have a responsibility as politicians to now try and come together and through this dark, difficult period, get outcomes where the Palestinian people have their rights.”
The former chancellor in the last days of Boris Johnson’s premiership, labelled Hamas’s action in Israel as a “horrific scene of murder, maiming and mayhem by fundamentalists who do not speak for the Palestinian people”.
He claimed that with investment, Gaza could be rebuilt for Palestinians but there was a need to ensure “it is not hijacked by men of war with a currency for fundamentalism”.
“If we can do it in Palestine, then there's real hope for the rest of the region, where there's clearly similar challenges.”
He said that Hamas's attack was to create “murder and chaos” to derail an imminent agreement between Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US.
Mr Zahawi also suggested that the Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic ties between Israel and Arab countries including the UAE, were the “antidote to that virus of fundamentalism”.
Iran had an “enormous ability to impact the region” and could use that to “play a positive role in dealing with the 199 hostages” taken from Israel rather than attempt to escalate the conflict or scupper any peace initiative.
Hamas has claimed it has between 200 and 250 hostages.
Mr Zahawi raised the possibility of neighbouring countries providing peacekeepers in Gaza as part of any future agreement.
“There should be nothing off the table,” he said. “Those in the Arab world who want to see the peace and prosperity agenda flourish, I'm sure would want peacekeepers if that's part of the solution.”
Mr Zahawi, whose parents fled Baghdad in 1978 when Saddam Hussein rose to power, felt there was a “level of maturity” in the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, where governments were “beginning to think strategically about the prosperity agenda”.
“Ultimately, if people are doing well, have jobs, a livelihood and security, and I mean that for the Palestinian people too, then there is no space for fundamentalists to operate.”
He added that the Iraqi prime minister, Mohammed Shia Al Sudani, had been “playing a really positive role” since the war began by engaging with the neighbouring nations, including Iran.
He agreed that the Ukraine war had meant that Britain and others had been “less focused” on the Middle East. “But let's use this moment and turn it into a positive for a settlement,” he urged.