By Douglas Alexander, Shadow Foreign Secretary
I am fortunate to have been able to visit Israel a number of times both in Government and in Opposition.
On these visits I have always been struck by the fact that for so many people who visit Israel – whether for business, pleasure of official engagements – at some point during their trip, there is usually a moment when they feel a connection that goes deeper than the original purpose of their visit.
It is no ordinary place. And while that sense of connection is obviously different for each individual, almost regardless of background, nationality or faith, the experience regularly seems to evoke in people a sense of something bigger than ourselves.
For me that moment came two weeks ago when I visited Yad Vashem with Ed Miliband on his first visit to Israel as Leader of the Opposition. I was struck by how a primarily political visit also involved profoundly personal moments of reflection certainly for Ed, but also for me and others accompanying us through the museum.
I know there will be those that say that to feel a connection to this history and this country is somehow to show a bias towards today’s Israeli government – I don’t agree. For me the establishment of the state of Israel reflected some very basic values to which that I feel personally connected and committed.
Of course that is certainly not to suggest that I agree with every decision taken by the present Israeli government, or that I support the view of every Israeli Prime Minister.
Only a matter of days after we returned from our visit, I was disappointed to hear that the recent round of peace talks seems to have stalled and is now at risk of collapsing totally.
I don’t believe however that it is the role of the international community to immediately start pointing the finger of blame for the latest stall in the negotiations. Ultimately there have been more than enough missed opportunities on all sides and so right now I believe that for countries like the UK there are other more constructive ways to help try and find a way forward.
That is why when President Obama was asked to respond to the reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas he was right to say that there have been a “series of choices that both Israel and the Palestinians have made which are not conducive to solving this crisis”.
Ultimately, despite the recent setbacks, the overwhelming feeling I had at the end of my most recent visit, was that the status quo is simply unacceptable.
It is unacceptable for the millions of Palestinians trapped under occupation, in particular for a young generation who have spent their whole lives deprived of basic freedoms and opportunities that are today breeding a deep sense of frustration and despair.
It is unacceptable for many Israelis who still today live with the terror of rocket attacks from Gaza, forcing their children into fortified nurseries and bomb-proof classrooms – as well as those who increasingly fear a growing sense of being isolated from those countries that Israel rightly sees as its natural allies.
And it is not acceptable for the international community who have for decades committed to helping facilitate a peace process, but too often have been left with no peace and no process to support.
As I returned from the visit with Ed Miliband, and as we witnessed the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks enter into yet another crucial stage, I was reminded of the words of Dr Martin Luther King delivered on April 4, 1967, a year to the day before he was assassinated.
He said – “We are faced with the fact… that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late.”
King was a man with a profound commitment to changing the world around him by peaceful means. He was not willing to simply accept that because something had existed and persisted for decades in our past, it needed to necessarily go on to define our future.
Many of those that I met during my most recent visit had much of this same sense of commitment to change and progress. Now in the crucial days and weeks ahead it is vital that we see a generation of political leaders on both sides live up to that expectation and show willing to embrace together that same sense of the fierce urgency of now.