President Obama makes the Israel-Palestine conflict the centerpiece of his address to the UN General Assembly. Urging the international community to support his plan for peace, the President called on Palestinians to move ahead with "genuine reconciliation" with Israel and said Israel should extend it’s "settlement moratorium." We speak with attorney Diana Buttu, a former adviser to Palestinian negotiators. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: While Palestinians took to the streets of Jerusalem Thursday to protest the killing of a Palestinian man by an Israeli security guard, here in New York President Obama made the direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority the centerpiece of his speech before the United Nations General Assembly. Urging the international community to support his plan for peace, President Obama called on Palestinians to move ahead with, quote, "genuine reconciliation" with Israel and said that Israel should extend its, quote, "settlement moratorium."
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Israel’s settlement moratorium has made a difference on the ground and improved the atmosphere for talks. Our position on this issue is well known. We believe that the moratorium should be extended. We also believe that talks should press on until completed. Those of us who are friends of Israel must understand that true security for the Jewish state requires an independent Palestine, one that allows the Palestinian people to live with dignity and opportunity. And those of us who are friends of the Palestinians must understand that the rights of the Palestinian people will be won only through peaceful means, including genuine reconciliation with a secure Israel.
JUAN GONZALEZ: President Obama added that if his recommendations are followed, quote, "When we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations: an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel."
AMY GOODMAN: Well, for some analysis on the state of Israel-Palestine negotiations and what exactly President Obama said yesterday at the United Nations, we’re joined here in New York by Diana Buttu. She’s a Palestinian Canadian lawyer, former adviser to Palestinian negotiators, also a policy adviser to the Palestinian Policy Network, Al-Shabaka. And she’s at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
DIANA BUTTU: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: What was your response? Did you — were you surprised by anything President Obama said or even that he made this the centerpiece of his UN address?
DIANA BUTTU: I’m not at all surprised that he made this the centerpiece of his address, because it’s become very clear that this peace process is simply one of getting the parties together. It’s about process and not about peace. And he wanted to be able to show that he’s done something.
The sad part of the speech is that it was filled with empty words. He didn’t say anything new. He didn’t press Israel to stop its violations of international law. And he simply made it seem as though the Israelis and Palestinians are to equal parties who should just come together and shake hands and the world will be a better place. It’s ignoring reality.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And this stance of the United States in terms of just concentrating on the peace process rather than what’s happened previously is very different from how it’s handled issues before the United Nations and the international community. I’m thinking of Darfur, for example, or the continuing battles in Africa, where the US appears to insist that the past atrocities be dealt with, even in the midst of a peace process.
DIANA BUTTU: This is precisely the problem. We’ve had this peace process go on now for seventeen years, and it’s failed for seventeen years. And the reason that it’s failed for seventeen years is because there’s been no focus on international law and on international human rights. Instead, it’s been just an attempt to try to get the parties together in the same room, hoping that somehow having the parties in the same room will make all of the ills go away. But what Obama seemed to ignore in this speech, and other presidents have ignored, is that there have been now over four decades of Israel’s colonization of the West Bank, and in particular this year, as well. While he spoke of a moratorium, there hasn’t been a moratorium on the ground. The situation hasn’t approved for Palestinians. We’ve seen more and more Israeli settlers moving into the West Bank and more human rights violations going on.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, he seemed, on one hand, to urge a continuation of the moratorium, but not to link that continuation to continuation of the peace talks.
DIANA BUTTU: Yes, and this is precisely the problem. Yeah, as a Palestinian, how am I going to have any faith that this process is going to lead to any result, that it’s going to lead to Israelis actually evacuating the West Bank, when at the same time they’re not even willing to halt the construction of settlements while the negotiations are taking place? So, it just doesn’t make any sense, and it’s become — rather than focusing and demanding that international law be applied, he’s instead changing international law and saying to the Palestinians, "Simply accept what Israel is doing, and we hope that things will get better in the end." But they won’t.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the role, Diana Buttu, of the United Nations? President Obama is calling for support for the US-sponsored peace talks. Where does the UN fit in?
DIANA BUTTU: Well, the United Nations is one member of a four-member quartet, but its role has been very heavily curtailed and diminished. And the reason is because the United States has seized the reins, so to speak, when it comes to the peace process. And it has — rather than adopting a position that is principled and on the basis of law, it’s adopting a position that’s on the basis of power, on the basis of its relations with Israel. So the United Nations does play a role, but that role has now been subsumed and overshadowed by that of the United States.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But Obama has now at least staked out sort of his reputation on getting this resolved and getting some kind of a peace deal within the next year, hasn’t he? And that’s going to, to some degree, I would assume, exert pressure on Israel to come up with some kind of concessions in terms of the negotiations.
DIANA BUTTU: I am not so hopeful. If you read what the Israeli government has said, they’ve said that Jerusalem talks are off the table. Talk of refugees, who haven’t been able to return to their homes for six decades because they’re not Jewish, is off the table. Talk of a settlement freeze is off the table. The only thing that appears to be on the table at this point is more and more demands for security. So they may be able to come up with an agreement that focuses on security, but it’s certainly not going to address the core issue, which is the denial of Palestinian freedom.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the recent unrest in Jerusalem with the killing of a Palestinian man by an Israeli security guard and where it happened, the significance of the Silwan neighborhood?
DIANA BUTTU: Yes. The Silwan neighborhood is a neighborhood, among many neighborhoods in Jerusalem, in East Jerusalem, that are under threat of demolition. The reason that these neighborhoods are under threat of demolition is because, for the past four decades, Israel has had very discriminatory policies as regards Palestinians and their ability to build in those areas. A number of Palestinians have built homes in those areas. The Israelis refuse to recognize those homes and have slated those homes for demolition. Not only have they slated those homes for demolition, but they want to create a new settlement called the City of David right in the heart of Silwan. And so, this is where the most recent killing took place. Again, this is, Amy, one of the problems that’s been going on as there’s been talk of peace process: home demolitions. And it’s one of the issues that has been the most ignored over the course of the past year. We’ve seen more homes demolished this past year than any other year.
AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of President Obama saying the moratorium should continue, the Israel — Israel’s moratorium on house building — not must?
DIANA BUTTU: That’s the most frustrating part of the speech is that the United States gives Israel so much money every year —- $3 billion. It could have, at the very least, tied the money that it gives to Israel to a demand for a freeze on settlements completely. But it hasn’t. Last year alone, we saw more than 8,000 settlers move into the West Bank, more and more homes being built, even though this so-called moratorium was taking place, and at the same time, more Palestinian homes being demolished. So, if Obama’s words are going to have any meaning, he should have really demanded that Israel not only stop the settlement activity, but that it reverse the settlement activity.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I want to ask you about the -— there have been a lot of — quite a few media reports in the US commercial media in recent weeks about the relative renaissance of prosperity of the West Bank vis-à-vis what is happening in Gaza, sort of as an indication that joining in a peace process, no matter how futile it is, provides something in terms of economic progress for the Palestinian people. Could you comment on that?
DIANA BUTTU: It’s import to read between the lines of all of those reports that are coming out. All of the reports that come out very clearly indicate that the Palestinian economy is not sustainable, that the only thing that’s sustaining it right now is an injection of foreign aid. So if you take away the foreign aid, then you have a collapsed economy, which is what we’ve seen in the Gaza Strip. So, what they’re trying to do is they’re trying to prop up support for the peace process by showing the world how great the West Bank is doing, but the prosperity is only in one or two cities in the West Bank. The majority of Palestinians are not feeling the prosperity. There’s still, in some areas in the West Bank, more than 80 percent of the population dependent on food handouts. So it’s a fake economy, and the World Bank and the IMF know this.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the report coming out of the UN Human Rights Council, a three-member panel of international jurors, saying there’s clear evidence to support prosecutions for willful killing and torture committed during Israel’s raid of the Mavi Marmara
, which was the Turkish ship that was bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza, the significance of this?
DIANA BUTTU: I certainly hope that there is a significance to it, in that I hope that there are going to be prosecutions before the International Criminal Court or some other means. And I hope that this overshadows at least this false Commission of Inquiry that the Israelis are putting together. I really hope that there are some prosecutions worldwide on this issue.
AMY GOODMAN: Diana Buttu, thanks so much for coming in, Palestinian Canadian lawyer, former adviser to Palestinian negotiators.