Unlock the Editor’s Digest for free
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has defended his position on the Israel-Hamas conflict after days of criticism from inside his party, insisting that a full ceasefire would only strengthen the militant group Hamas.
In a speech in London on Tuesday, Starmer repeated his call for a humanitarian pause to allow people out of the enclave and let aid in, in line with the position of both the US and UK governments.
“It is the only credible approach which has a chance of what we all want to see in Gaza,” he said. He added that he understood why people wanted a ceasefire in response to “horrifying” scenes of civilian suffering.
Starmer said a permanent ceasefire at this stage would leave Hamas with the infrastructure and capability to carry out the sort of attack seen on October 7, risking more misery and suffering for Israelis and Palestinians.
“Hamas would be emboldened and would start preparing for future violence immediately,” he said. “It is, of course, also holding 200 hostages, you cannot freeze that situation without denying a sovereign state its self-defence.”
At least 13 front bench Labour MPs have criticised Starmer’s approach and tested the party’s collective responsibility by calling for a full ceasefire — along with other senior party figures such as London mayor Sadiq Khan.
Starmer was harangued by a knot of leftwing protesters as he arrived for the speech at Chatham House in London on Tuesday.
The Labour leader reiterated that the party supported Israel’s right to keep its people safe within the clear guidelines of international law, saying the attacks in October were the worst slaughter of Jewish people since the Holocaust.
But he also said the humanitarian crisis in Gaza was on a “previously unimaginable” scale.
He questioned an “open-ended” invasion by the Israeli government, saying: “Israel must be subjected to the rules of international law . . . the Palestinian people must be protected.”
Starmer said vital services in Gaza must be switched on, aid must be ramped up, the military operation must be measured and civilians must not be permanently displaced.
Starmer refused to say whether he thought Israel was acting in accordance with international law: “I think it’s unwise for politicians to sit on stages like this and . . . pronounce which acts may or may not be in accordance with international law.”
Working out whether international law had been breached could take weeks or months of assimilating evidence by experts, he said.
Starmer called on the international community to ensure that the conflict in the Middle East would lead to a “complete renewal of a political process” to pursue a long and lasting peaceful settlement for a two-state solution.
“Too many people have looked away and said it’s simply too difficult,” he said. “We cannot justify that any longer.”