In an interview with TRT World, Canadian-Palestinian human rights lawyer Diana Buttu sheds some light on the mistakes of both Fatah and Hamas
With the failure of the peace process and several transgressions from the US and Israel, including moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict continues to be one of the most protracted conflicts in the world.
The issue was debated at the TRT World Forum in Istanbul on October 3. On the sidelines of the event Canadian human rights lawyer Diana Buttu sat for an interview with TRT World, in which she criticised not only the Israeli state but also called out Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for doing "Israel's bidding."
How do you see the current state of the Palestinian conflict?
DIANA BUTTU: I think we’re at the worst position we’ve ever been in Palestinian history. We’re now past 70 years of the Nakba, 70 years of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. And 25 years since the negotiations process began with Israel. Just in that 25-year period alone, we’ve seen the number of settlements increase, the number of settlers go up to be close to three quarters of a million Israeli settlers.
We’ve seen more military checkpoints; our lives have become worse in terms of being able to move within our own country. And Palestinians are poorer than they’ve ever been. In the Gaza Strip, a child who’s 11 has never experienced a full day of electricity nor have they ever seen a day of clean water.
How did Palestine and the Palestinians get to this point?
DB: We reached this point because instead of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, pushing for Israel to be held accountable, instead of him pushing for boycotts, for divestment, for Israel to be sanctioned, he embraced Israel and went down a path of negotiating with them.
We don’t need a partner to negotiate with. We need the world to hold Israel accountable. Negotiations can’t happen between a very weak party and a very powerful party, which is what Israel is. All that can happen is for the world to put pressure on Israel to let us live in freedom.
Why is Abbas taking this stance?
DB: He’s taking this position because it was a position he believed in 1993. And most importantly because he hasn’t tried anything else. This is the only experience that he has. Here’s an example. For the past 25 years the Palestinian economy is held hostage to Israel. This is because we appear surrounded by Israeli military checkpoints. Instead of him trying to find a way that we’re no longer dependent upon donors, he’s made us even more dependent upon donors. So these are the things he could have done to change our situation but instead hasn’t.
Now we have a leader who flies around the world trying to collect more money for the Palestinian Authority. But the only job that the Palestinian Authority has is to crush any form of resistance against Israel’s occupation. He continues to do it because the only way the Palestinian Authority continues to get more money is if he continues to do Israel’s bidding.
Do you see any possibility in the future that Abbas will be removed from office?
DB: I don’t necessarily know if he’ll be removed or if his age is going to a factor; he’s in his eighties. What I do know is that what’s going to come is going to be very different. It could be positively different or negatively different. I fear the negative. The reason I fear that it will be negatively different, or different in a way that is worse off for us is because of the fact that the legacy that he has left behind is one of dependency rather than our ability to stand on our own two feet.
That said there is a younger generation that’s out there. That younger generation doesn’t believe in negotiations. It believes that it’s all about pushing world opinion and holding Israel to account. Just in the same way that the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa pushed to end South African apartheid.
This is where I see things going better in a hopeful direction. But time will tell.
Do you think Palestinians need a Mandela-like leadership?
DB: We need a Mandela-like leadership; but more than that, we need the world to support the Mandela-like struggle.
Who do you see as an alternative leader?
There are a lot. We’re all leaders. We have capacities of all colours of all spectrums. The fact that we don’t have one particular leader that the world can latch onto is a different matter.
Do you have any personal episodes with President Abbas?
DB: Yes I’ve worked with him for a number of years, yes.
Could you share the most striking episode you’ve had with him?
DB: He’s a man who very deeply believes in negotiations despite evidence to the contrary. He is somebody who very much believes that people are going to stick to their word despite evidence to the contrary. That for me is something that is very frustrating as somebody who is younger who has lived with the Israelis, seen what Israel is about, who has lived in the United States, sees what the US is about.
I’m not so naive to think that the United States is going to stick by its word, or that Israel is going to stick by its word. Israel and the United States are driven by politics; they’re driven by power, and it’s those things together; he should have a long time ago changed his strategy but instead continued to insist on negotiations.
How do you explain Israel’s aggression? Is it due to a weakness in Muslims, or is it because Israel has a lot of support from the Western bloc?
DB: It’s a combination of the two. On the one hand Israel does what it wants to do because it wants to erase us. Their whole policy is to erase Palestinians, erase any Palestinian Arab presence in the heartland and replace it with Jewish Israelis. The “erase-replace” policy has been around since 1948. At the same time, they do it because they can. And because there isn’t anybody that is blocking them. There is nobody that is taking Israel to the world’s court. There’s nobody that is trying to hold the leaders accountable. There’s nobody imposing sanctions on Israel. There’s no country blockading Israel.
They do it because they can.
So it’s a combination of the fact that Israel gets away with doing whatever it wants to do, and with the fact that the international community, including the Arab and Muslim world, don’t want to hold Israel into account.
Could Hamas be instrumental in realising the Palestinian statehood?
DB: I think one of the problems has been that Hamas has also been a problem. The reason that they’ve been a problem is because they’re also caught in the situation with Fatah where they’re not agreeing on what the basic components of our struggle are about. So instead they, along with Fatah, are focused on what the differences are rather than what the commonality is. They haven’t joined forces with the rest of the Palestinian population to push for a strategy to end Israel’s military rule. They’ve instead sat by; they’ve wanted to rule rather than resist.
Would it be correct to say that you’re associating more problems with Fatah than with Hamas?
DB: Absolutely, oh yes, absolutely. The reason I have more problems with Fatah rather than Hamas is because Fatah is the party that’s in power. Fatah is the ruling party; it’s the party that has got the international recognition. It’s the party that gets the international donor support. So of course I’m going to place a bigger blame on a party that is given all of the privileges.
But I also don’t want to absolve Hamas. They also have made mistakes. The fact that we are, 11 years later since the Hamas-Fatah split, still talking about reconciliation shows that neither side is really interested in reconciling. And this is why it’s so important for Palestinians to move past these two political parties and instead unite together.