Britain opposes a long-term occupation of the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces, British foreign minister James Cleverly said on Thursday.
In an interview with Al Arabiya, Cleverly said it was “inevitable” that Israel would oversee security in a post-Hamas Gaza Strip initially, but added: “We don’t want to see a sustained or long-term military occupation of Gaza. We don’t think that would facilitate peace.”
“We want to see a transition to a peaceful civilian Palestinian leadership as quickly as possible,” he added.
Cleverly said he believed Israeli troops would eventually leave Gaza saying a military presence in the enclave was not in Israel’s interest. “It is in Israel’s interest to have a peaceful relationship with the Palestinian people. I think it’s in Israel’s interest to have a Palestinian state committed to peace.”
Over one month of Israeli bombardment has killed more than 10,000 people in Gaza, many of them children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run Palestinian territory
Israel’s campaign to destroy Hamas has come in response to the unprecedented October 7 attack by Hamas militants that Israeli officials say left more than 1,400 people dead and around 240 taken hostage.
Britain acknowledges Israel’s right to self-defense but expects Israeli actions to be in accordance with international and humanitarian law, said Cleverly.
“We do believe Israel has a right to defend itself, but we always raise with them the importance of doing so within the framework of international law and always conscious to minimize the civilian casualties,” he said.
London wants to see “a permanent, peaceful resolution — one that sees a safe Israeli state and a safe Palestinian state,” Cleverly said.
Britain believes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only end “when Israel feels safe and secure within its borders, and when the Palestinian people have a genuine, positive future to work towards,” he said, adding: “We want a civilian leadership for the Palestinian people committed to peace, committed to coexistence with Israel.”
The top UK diplomat said his country wants to “keep the door open” to a two-state solution and added that London’s message to Israel is to always act in ways that support this solution and avoid actions that could undermine its prospects.
Cleverly said he had “no doubt” that if Palestinians “who are driven by the passion for Palestinian statehood and a peaceful future for the Palestinian people” were in charge of Gaza instead of Hamas, the conflict would come to an end.
Cleverly said Britain wants to see a significant increase in humanitarian aid to Gaza while ensuring it reaches Palestinian civilians, not Hamas.
“Sadly, we have seen too much of the support that we have given to the Palestinian people stolen by Hamas. And we know that many Palestinians are very angry with how much has been stolen by Hamas,” he said.
Britain has told Israel that it views attacks by settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank as “unacceptable,” Cleverly said.
“We have said that this does not facilitate a two state solution. And we’ve called upon Israel to take action and we will continue to keep a very, very close eye on the West Bank,” he said.
“We want to see the West Bank stable, free from violence, because that will be an important element to that peaceful two-state solution. So whenever we see these headlines, whenever we see violence, whenever we see vigilante action, whenever we see settlers killing Palestinians, we will raise this with the Israelis, as we have done in recent months.”
Britain’s relationship with Saudi Arabia has always been a close one but over time it has become a “much more sophisticated, wide ranging relationship,” said Cleverly, who met with his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan in Riyadh on Thursday.
“We see Saudi investments in the UK as well as British businesses here in Saudi. We see greater people to people contacts. We’re looking at education cooperation, medical cooperation. We see Saudi investment in UK sports … So it’s a strong relationship, it’s a wide relationship,” he said.
“And with the difficult circumstances that we see in the region at the moment, having such a close friendship and such a close relationship with Saudi is something very important,” added Cleverly.
Saudi Arabia has a “huge geopolitical strength,” he said, adding: “I think at these difficult times, having that friendship means that we are able to rely on the experience of our Saudi friends, both in the situation in Gaza, the situation in Yemen, the situation with Iran and the wider region.”