Diana Buttu: ‘We are seeing the Trump plan right now’
London - Diana Buttu, a Canadian-Palestinian lawyer, was legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) from 2000-05. She studied at Stanford and taught at Harvard, is very critical of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) and her political analysis is widely quoted.
Buttu (DB) spoke with The Arab Weekly (TAW) in mid-December via telephone from Ramallah about political developments in the region, which she called among the most challenging to face the Palestinians.
In December 2017, US President Donald Trump unilaterally announced the US Embassy would move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. There has been the expansion of Israeli settlements on land claimed by Palestinians for a future state. The Palestinian leadership remains divided. In the West Bank, the PA has restricted freedom of expression.
TAW: “Do you have any hope for the peace plan touted by the Trump administration but yet to be unveiled?”
DB: “What plan? The reason I ask ‘what plan’ is they’ve been dangling this in front of us for literally a year. All they keep saying is somehow they’re going to be hard on the Israelis and that’s going to bring about peace if the parties want it. Meanwhile, we’ve seen one of the highest rates of settlement growth in history and the reason is that Trump has given [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu the green light to do whatever he wants.
“It’s been a year of them telling us that the Israelis are going to pay a price but it’s been a year in which the Israelis have totally benefited. The only party to pay a price are the Palestinians. The next thing they’ll say is: ‘Well, there’s Israeli elections so we can’t unveil during an election period.’ It’s pretty much guaranteed that Netanyahu is going to call elections within the next few months.
“We are seeing the Trump plan right now. First, we had the embassy move. Second, and I think this was very underreported, was the fact that they closed the [US] Consulate [used by Palestinians]. The consulate is now only a little subsection within the embassy, which means that the way Israel views us, the way the Americans view us is that we are just a simple minority. We’re not a separate nation. We’re not a separate entity.”
(Editor’s note: After this interview, Netanyahu called elections for April 9)
TAW: “How do you assess Mahmoud Abbas, who’s known as Abu Mazen, president of the Palestinian Authority?”
DB: “Today we’re in a situation in which the PA is incapable of taking on Israel in the sense that it views Israel’s actions as a done deal and so instead it goes after Palestinians. We’ve seen people being arrested for Facebook posts for critiquing the president and, all the while, the bigger crackdown is sadly on the people of Gaza. I can’t believe we as Palestinians can’t go out on the streets to protest sanctions imposed on [Hamas-ruled] Gaza by Abu Mazen.
“We’re in a place where we’ve got an unrepresentative government. We’ve got a visionless government and we’ve got a government that wants to bring half of its population to its knees because in 2006, 12 years ago, they voted for Hamas. Half of the population is under 18 and those people didn’t even vote for Hamas but he still wants to punish them.”
TAW: “Have you been threatened by the PA?”
DB: “They have come after me but they haven’t been successful. Immediately after I wrote a piece for the New York Times in May 2017 calling for the shuttering of the PA [and against the two-state solution], there was a schizophrenic reaction. On the one hand, they pretended it had never been written. On the other, I was getting a lot of hang-up calls, threatening calls, people saying ‘Don’t show up in Ramallah, if you do, you’re going to face consequences.’ They always resort to saying things about women.
“I was never physically harmed. For me, that’s the end of it. For others who aren’t foreign-born like I am, who don’t have that kind of perceived protection and backing, for them the situation is definitely worse.”
TAW: “Could there be another Palestinian intifada?”
DB: “We need to be more clever when it comes to any mass protests because the Israelis have us under lockdown. It’s a remote-control occupation; the occupation has almost become robotic. At checkpoints, there are one or two soldiers at most and all they’re doing is looking at computers.
“In Gaza, there’s been 38 weeks of protests. There’s been more people injured in these 38 weeks than were injured in 2014 in the bombing campaign and yet it hasn’t moved Israel one iota. The reason it hasn’t moved Israel is because it’s been so surveilled and they only need a few machine guns to gun people down.
“In the West Bank, it’s the same scenario, any mass level of protest is going to have to overcome these strategic surveillance mechanisms that are being used not just to suppress protests but to prevent any protests from starting.
“The part that has disturbed me the most about Gaza is just how much people have been dehumanised. I remember when [New York Times columnist] Thomas Friedman would say ‘why not just march and hold up signs’ and now he wants the signs to say we believe in a two-state solution because somehow that will ricochet a bullet.
“I’m always left with this eerie thought. I ask: ‘Is this situation sustainable?’ I’m forced to recognise in many cases that the optimism of it not being sustainable is overcome by the reality that it is.”