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A Palestinian Point Of View On Trump's Attempt At Middle East Peace


President Trump landed in Israel setting high expectations saying finding peace between Israelis and Palestinians may be less difficult than some in the past have thought. Trump met with Israeli officials and then today with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Diana Buttu is a former legal adviser to Abbas. She's recently been more critical of him as an analyst at the Institute of Middle East Understanding. I asked her about Trump's chances to achieve Middle East peace. She did not sound exactly optimistic.

DIANA BUTTU: I think it's very important to keep in mind that the reason that Israel has been able to maintain this occupation is because the international community has allowed it to maintain the occupation. And so all it really requires is the international community to have the will to actually stop Israel by putting into place measures to hold Israel accountable. Whether that's boycotts, whether it's putting into place sanctions, all of that is possible. Is President Trump the person to do it? On that part, I'm very skeptical.

GREENE: Given the history of the U.S.-Israeli relationship, given the reality of American politics, are you not making it sound like some of the things you're saying are easier than they might actually be?

BUTTU: The things that I'm saying are definitely going to require some effort. But I don't think that it's impossible. I think if we look back in history and look at what happened in South Africa, a similar argument could be made that it was difficult, if not impossible, to put an end to apartheid. And so the similar positions are taken when it comes to Israel.

GREENE: It's so interesting because at moments like this, you hear some of the same arguments from people on both sides of this debate. You know, we spoke with an Israeli minister, Michael Oren, and he said that peace talks have actually been bogged down over the years with preconditions from the Palestinian side and that it's up to Palestinians to drop those preconditions before negotiations can begin. Is there some fairness to his argument?

BUTTU: Absolutely not. What he is talking about is Israel wants to continue to build and expand settlements, and it wants Palestinians to simply swallow that pill. We have to be asking ourselves, are negotiations really the right framework here? And for me having been involved in the negotiations, the answer is no. Instead, we should be imposing sanctions on Israel to make sure that it stops denying Palestinians their freedom.

GREENE: With respect, I wonder, though, if you are making an argument that is essentially, you know, you are on the moral high ground. The world must agree with you. And that's the only way this is going to work.

BUTTU: This is not a question of being on the moral high ground. But I do believe that this is the only way that we're going to get a lasting peace.

GREENE: You've written very critically recently of Mahmoud Abbas. Are you suggesting he is not the right leader to follow the kind of strategy you're talking about?

BUTTU: Yes, because I'm very critical of the fact that he's now spent 12 years in the office, eight of those years without any electoral backing. And I'm also very critical because he continues to pursue the same bilateral approach that I've watched, and I was part of, and I know fails and will continue to fail.

GREENE: Let me just finish by asking you a broad question. I mean, you have set forward a strategy that would strike many people as very difficult to see realistically in terms of sanctions on Israel, in terms of not going to the negotiating table at all, in terms of one state, which Israel has been pretty clear about, you know, not being open to. So if the odds are long, are you essentially saying there might be no lasting peace ever and how does that feel?

BUTTU: No, quite the opposite. I actually think that it is within grasp. I think we just have to change the way that we are thinking about this. And I actually think that this will not take very long if there is a mind shift. And that mind shift is already starting to take shape both here and internationally.

GREENE: That was Diana Buttu. She was a former legal adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who met today with President Trump as he continues his foreign travels. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.