Human rights lawyer Diana Buttu speaks about US policy on Israel-Palestine at events in London

Posted by Caabu on 29 Jan 2019

Human rights lawyer and former PLO legal advisor, Diana Buttu, spoke at a Palestine APPG event in Parliament and at an event hosted by PSC, Makan and Caabu at the Unite the Union on 24 and 25 January 2019.  She discussed the shifts in US policy towards Israel and Palestine under president Trump, the withdrawal of US funding for UNRWA and the growing crisis that Palestinian refugees face.

Diana Buttu is a former spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), and also an attorney specialising in human rights law and negotiations. She served as a legal advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team, and also the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. Buttu is a prominent commentator on Palestine, with her op-eds being published among newspapers such as New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Guardian among others.

With the Israeli election coming up on 9 April 2019, Buttu stressed that the campaign is going to be harder on Palestinians, which is going to be “more right-wing”. She exemplified by describing the ways in which the planned demolition of the Palestinian Bedouin community of Khan Al-Ahmar has formed part of the Israeli election campaign. She emphasised that Khan Al-Ahmar is not just an attempt to split the West Bank, but also a way to forcibly transfer, and relocate the Palestinians Bedouin in these communities.

Buttu stated up that under the Trump administration there had been more new Israeli settlements than in previous US administrations. She sees a correlation between the increasing settlements and the “Trump plan”, which she describes as an extension of Netanyahu’s ideas. Buttu pointed out four different measures based on Netanyahu’s ideas, on how to deal with the Palestinians, who he viewed solely either as demographic or security threat. 

1.       Redefining refugees, to only include those who actually touched the soil back in 1948.

2.       Get rid of UNRWA, by cutting funds.

3.       Move the US embassy and close down US consulates in Jerusalem.

4.       Combining zones A and B. Push the Palestinians in to cantons or Bantustans. 

She also said that Netanyahu wished to see the Palestinians simply as a minority group, like the Copts in Egypt, or the Alawites in Syria, and limit their representation.

For now the “Trump plan” will not be revealed until after the Israeli election, she added. She discussed the possibility of it even existing whatsoever, saying that only four people; Donald Trump, Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman, are said to have seen the “plan”.

Buttu also discussed the worsening humanitarian situation in Palestine. Friday 25 January was the 44th consecutive week of Palestinians protesting in Gaza. 23, 688 Palestinians have been shot or injured at the border fence, more people have been injured than during the bombing of Gaza during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. The ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) says that Gaza’s hospitals cannot keep up with all the medical demands. They said that there is not a single hospital in the world that could keep up with the demands. Simultaneously the ongoing denial of electricity, the blockade, unclean water are other humanitarian issues faced by Palestinians in Gaza.

On the Palestinian Authority, Buttu said that there are some views held by people who wants to see Hamas eliminated or to repent. Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the parliament in December 2018. 2007 was the last time they met.Buttu claimed that both sides seem to be content with ruling their own territories, although there is talk of reconciliation. President Abbas has also called for elections within 6 months. Polls have indicated that the majority oppose both parties. Buttu also mentioned the three-year-old alliance between five political parties, the Democratic Alliance, and their possible impact on a potential election, which had been picking up support.

Buttu also stressed the pressures on Palestinian civil society, on NGOs and on donors. She mentioned the role of NGO Monitor in targeting the legitimate work that is being done by them, among other things, pointing out and chastising the terminology used. The Palestinian Authority along with Hamas has also pressurised various organisations. Some NGOs are closing down because of regulations put down by either one or the two administrations. She added that the environment overall is a difficult one to operate in, an environment of coercion, including denial of visas, permit restrictions, and movement restrictions among others. Yet with that said, it is important that the NGOs push back on the challenges they are facing, and also that the countries funding the NGOs do the same.

Concerning the UK and what they and other international actors can and should do, Buttu stressed the importance of holding Israel accountable for what is occurring, stopping the settlements and question Israel’s intentions with for example Khan Al-Ahmar.