by Seth Sandronsky
December 16, 2002
Diana Buttu has been a legal advisor to the Palestine Liberation Organization for two years. A Palestinian born and reared in Canada, she has a law degree from the University of Toronto and is finishing her Ph.D. at Stanford University.
SS: What do you do as a legal advisor to the PLO?
DB: In peace negotiations with Israel, I have been working on the issue of Palestinian refugees and refugee compensation. Between 1948-1949, 74 percent of the Palestinian population was forced from their homes. They haven’t been allowed to return because they aren’t Jewish. These refugees left behind $20 billion in property (land, houses, bank accounts and businesses) in today’s prices.
I work on the Israeli government’s compensation of these Palestinians under international law. But Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally ended the peace negotiations. They won’t begin until Palestinian terrorism and violence end, he said.
SS: What is your impression of the PLO-Israel negotiations?
DB: That of a child rape victim negotiating with the rapist. In terms of the occupied Palestinian lands, the Israeli negotiators say, “Well, we have to accommodate the Israeli settlers and can’t forcibly remove them.” We respond that the Israeli government gave the Jewish settlers incentives to move into these occupied territories. Now give them incentives to move out. Why do the Palestinians have to accommodate this illegal occupation?
Israeli negotiators add, “Sure, we’re illegally occupying Palestinians’ land. Try to move us out.” The U.S. government policy is to do nothing to make the Jewish settlers leave. The U.S. government wants the Palestinians to accept Israel being above international law, and the Palestinians being beneath it.
International law is being ignored. There is a power imbalance between the Palestinians and Israel. Nobody is there to balance this imbalance.
SS: Israel is violating which specific international laws in its treatment of Palestinian refugees?
DB: The Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land since 1967 violate the Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court. And UN Security Council Resolution 452 calls on Israel to cease building settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
Approximately 400,000 Jewish settlers have moved into occupied Palestinian land since 1967. Between 1993 and 2000, half of these Jewish settlers arrived.
SS: What’s the future hold for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?
DB: Israel has been doing what it wants to do and will continue to do so. If the international community doesn’t stop Israel from continuing to violate international law, it will slaughter the Palestinians or place them in long-term prisons.
The International Solidarity Movement of foreign nationals has been involved protecting Palestinians. I also work with the ISM.
Without an enforcement mechanism, there will be no positive results for the Palestinians even if international law is with us. So I am also working to improve the public image of Palestinians. This can help alter the balance of power by getting more people, not just the law, on our side.
Seth Sandronsky is an editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento's progressive newspaper. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org