Palestinians: peace will be achieved via equality
By Anton Vidgen
If the Israelis only began to treat the Palestinians as equals in all regards, Diana Buttu said she believes peace would be one step closer.
Born and raised in Toronto, Buttu pursued her interest in international refugee issues which eventually landed her a job as a legal advisor to the Palestine Liberation Organization of which Yasser Arafat - the key figure on the Palestinian side - is chairman.
"The biggest philosophical obstacle is that of equality; Israel has yet to recognize Palestinians as equals," Buttu said. "It's only when Israel comes to view the Palestinians as equals - equal in status, equal in legality - that I think we will have peace."
The building of settlements in Palestinian territory continues to make life difficult for Palestinians who often find their land confiscated by the Israelis, Buttu said. Equally troubling is the building of a massive wall snaking through Palestinian lands, she added.
The first step in any peace process would be to end the occupation, she explained, adding only then can other thorny issues, such as the right of return for Palestinian refugees, be discussed.
"If you look at international law, international legality and international refugee law, [they] depend on refugees being able to return to the place that they're from," Buttu said. "International law does not support ethnic cleansing in any way, shape or form."
When asked if Arafat was still relevant and capable of guiding the peace process, Buttu said he remains relevant as long as he is the democratically elected leader of the Palestinian people, but said efforts to hold elections have been met with resistance. "The Palestinians have been pushing for elections, but the elections have been blocked - three sets of elections - by the United States and by Israel," she said.
Buttu also said the PLO has been opposed to suicide bombers for decades and does not endorse the killing of civilians at all, contrary to what many believe.
"The Road Map is pretty much dead right now," Buttu said of the current peace process. "The United States has stopped focusing on the Road Map and instead moved towards pushing the parties to bilateral agreements.
"I think it's important to highlight that there's a gross power imbalance. Israel is an occupier and the Palestinians are the occupied. Israel is a state and the Palestinians are stateless," Buttu said. "I think it's up to the international community to be pushing the end of the occupation [and] not simply the Palestinians. And I say that to perhaps highlight that it's up to Canada and other countries around the world to be pushing Israel to end the occupation."