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Bush Visits Israel on Anniversary

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Diana Buttu is a Canadian-born Palestinian. She's a former senior legal advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. She's teaching now at Birzeit University near Ramallah in the occupied territories. Diana, how would you answer this question we just put to Jeffrey Goldberg? Is a two-state solution really the only alternative for Israelis and Palestinians now?

Ms. DIANA BUTTU (Former Legal Advisor, PLO): At this point in time, the answer is no. And the reason is that if you look at the course of history. Over the course of history, this land has never been divided in a successful manner. And it's becoming clearer amongst many Palestinians that there's not going to be a two state solution. This is largely because there are many settlements that are now in the West Bank and that seem to be growing in the West Bank. Many Palestinians are now beginning to say well, look, it's not working, it hasn't worked in the past, so maybe what we should be looking for instead is a one state solution in which everybody is given equal citizenship, equal rights irrespective of religion.

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CHADWICK: Is there something that Palestinians can do to move things forward to that end or some other, or is progress something that is entirely in the hands of the Israelis because they have the power.

Ms. BUTTU: It's in the hands of both people I believe. On the side of the Israelis, if the interest is a two state solution then they have to make that interest very clear. The settlements have to be stopped and reversed. There are almost five hundred thousand Israelis now living amongst Palestinians in the West Bank. It would have to stop that practice now and reverse it. But it doesn't seem as though that is something that it wants to do. As it comes to Palestinians, a similar decision has to be taken. And right now the decision making process has completely been focused on just having a two state solution, having an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But increasingly, many Palestinians are now beginning to talk about a one state solution. If that's the path the Palestinians are going to go along, I personally believe it has to be a decision that's taken in a positive sense, rather than a negative sense, not just because the two state solution is no longer working, but because this is something that Palestinians inherently want.

CHADWICK: When you talk about a one state solution, Israelis hear that, and they say well this one state could not be Israel if it had a majority Palestinian Arab population. If everyone had equal rights there wouldn't be a Jewish state anymore, would there?

Ms. BUTTU: The problem is that there's never really been a definition of a Jewish state other than to say a Jewish majority. The only way that they could create a Jewish majority in a place where it's largely not-Jewish is through the process of expulsion, which is what happened 60 years ago on this very day. I think that if Israel looks at itself a little bit more clearly, and asks itself what it means to be a Jewish state. Then I think that the idea of perhaps a Jewish safe haven which is what many, many Israelis are talking about, is something that can be brought into the frame, can be something that this country can turn into.

CHADWICK: But can you imagine a situation developing now where Jews felt, all right, we'll have a safe haven. And our partners in this safe haven will be the Palestinians and the Arabs, the people with whom we have been locked in a mortal struggle for the last 60 years.

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Ms. BUTTU: I do think that it can happen. It was the case 60 years ago which is why there is such an influx of Jewish immigrants into the territory itself. So the possibility is there. The conflict has existed over the course of the past 60 years owing to the fact that there's been an attempt to put one group above another, and hence you have a conflict, which you would have a conflict in any other place around the world. I think if you get to the situation of equal rights, you'll see a very, very different Middle East.

CHADWICK: You were a formal advisor, legal advisor to Mahmoud Abbas. Why did you quit that job?

Ms. BUTTU: I left for a number of reasons, but largely because I was tired. It was an exhausting job, and I didn't see that peace was going to come within my period of working with him. I was beginning to feel that the U.S. Administration was starting to play games with Mahmoud Abbas. And as much as they had said that they wanted to see a different leadership, they wanted to see a new Palestinian leadership emerge, there really wasn't a sense on the part of President Bush or on the part of the International community that they truly wanted to see an end to the conflict. I felt it was more a question of conflict management rather than conflict resolution.

CHADWICK: And now you teach at what I believe is the preeminent university in the West Bank, Birzeit University?

Ms. BUTTU: Yes it is.

CHADWICK: You see a lot of young people there.

Ms. BUTTU: I do.

CHADWICK: And what do you see?

Ms. BUTTU: A lot of young students who have never lived the life I've lived, and that makes me sad. I see students who, although they're Palestinian, have less of a right to see their birth country than I do. I, as a Canadian, have the ability to travel all throughout Israel and throughout the West Bank, and my students barely have permits to come to class. I see young students who have never met Israelis. The only Israelis that they have ever met are soldiers and settlers. I feel a great deal of sadness. At the same time, I see amongst them a great deal of optimism and hope. My students show up to class every single day knowing that at the end of their four years they just might not have a job, and indeed most of them do not, but yet there's a desire to learn and a desire to change their lives. So I see some sadness and some happiness.

CHADWICK: Diana Buttu teaches Law at Birzeit University near Ramallah in the West Bank. Diana, thank you.

Ms. BUTTU: Thank you.

CHADWICK: And stay with us on Day To Day from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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