Lord Cameron worried Israel has broken international law in Gaza

Former prime minister and current Foreign Secretary discusses Israel's responsibilities as "de facto" occupying power in Gaza

Britain's Foreign Secretary David Cameron in Israel.  No 10 Downing Street
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Britain’s Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron has stated that Israel’s actions in Gaza have left it vulnerable to accusations of flouting international law.

In his first appearance before MPs scrutinising foreign affairs since he was appointed, the former prime minister also admitted that as the “de facto” occupying power in Gaza, Israel had humanitarian obligations.

He conceded that the current conflict, in which Britain has so far refused to call for an all-out ceasefire, was leading to “stress” in relationships with Arab countries, with the death toll among Palestinians approaching 23,000, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Mr Cameron also warned the Houthis in Yemen to cease their actions against Red Sea shipping, or “consequences will follow”.

Israel vulnerable

During some fractious questioning by MPs on the foreign affairs committee, Mr Cameron was asked by Bob Seely if “reading between the lines” lawyers were saying that the Israelis are “vulnerable to a challenge in relation to proportionality” in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

“It’s close to that,” Mr Cameron replied.

He added that it would be for “a court to say that’s genocide” – something he did not believe to be the case – and that Britain did not agree with South Africa’s current challenge against Israel in the ICJ.

Mr Cameron also confirmed that he had not received legal advice that Israel was in breach of international law.

More than 1% of Gaza's population has been killed

More than 1% of Gaza's population has been killed

Occupying force

In a heated exchange with the committee chairwoman Alicia Kearns, he was repeatedly asked if Israel was the occupying power in Gaza and as such had to look after its civilian population.

“They are the de facto occupying power,” he finally said. “When it comes to aid delivery they need to do more.” However, he also suggested that Israel did not regard itself as an “occupying force”.

But he criticised the lack of humanitarian lorries getting into Gaza, with 150 arriving daily rather than the 500 required.

“Every day there’s more hunger and disease,” he said. “90 per cent of Gazans are getting less than one meal a day.”

Crossings from Egypt needed to open seven days a week and Britain had made a list of humanitarian requests. “Only the Israelis can really fix this,” he said. “It needs to be fixed and fixed urgently.”

Mr Cameron, who has twice visited the Middle East since his surprise appointment in November, added that Israel needed to “do better in the south than they did in the north” of Gaza.

Damaged relationships

It was put to him that Britain’s failure to call for an immediate ceasefire might have damaged its friendships with Arab nations including the UAE and Bahrain.

“Fundamentally it doesn’t,” he said. “There’s stress there because the Arab states have called for an immediate ceasefire and are deeply concerned for the loss of life.

“They understand we are not being deliberately difficult or obtuse about this, but that it’s very practical British common sense.”

He knew that Arab countries were “disappointed” but understood Britain’s internal politics.

Giant rebuild

He added that assessments he had seen stated that Hamas had lost “50 per cent of their capacity and capability”.

Once the war was over, rebuilding Gaza would require a “giant international effort because level of destruction so great”.

This would mean bringing together Arab states, Europe and America as well as Israel to fund the enterprise.

Houthi consequences

On the Houthis' attacks against shipping in the southern Red Sea, he warned of the danger of escalation if the Iranian-backed rebels continued.

Both the US and UK have threatened direct action if the Houthi missile and fast boat attacks do not cease. Mr Cameron warned: “I don’t’ think we can continue to accept this impact on freedom of navigation,” adding that “consequences will follow”.

He also said that he “applauded” Saudi Arabia in making “real progress” towards finding a lasting peace agreement with the Houthis.

Updated: January 09, 2024, 5:59 PM