Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 27.10.2011:
Since her first visit to Palestine during the first Intifada, when she was only 16, Diana Buttu always felt something was quintessentially wrong in the Palestinian-Israeli equation. Whether they are the people of her native Nazareth or the Palestinians of Gaza, the Arabs of Palestine were constantly being undermined and oppressed by the Israelis in one way or another. It was partly out of this early awareness of the injustice that had victimised the Palestinian people that led Diana to study law.
Armed with a master’s degree in judicial science from the prestigious Stanford University in California, Diana began her work on the international stage when she became a legal adviser and communications director for the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Negotiations Affairs Department in 2000.
Leaving behind her family in Toronto, she chose to make her mark in the quagmire of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations by becoming one of the most eloquent and hard-hitting spokespeople the Palestinians had known to date. Appearing on television screens across the world, on university campuses across the globe, and in international conferences, Diana Buttu became the new face of Palestine.
Her ability to defend the Palestinian position on a legal basis gave her credibility. Her flawless English skills substantiated her professionalism and her charming, often funny demeanour gave the Palestinians a new image – they may be downtrodden but they knew how to be self-deprecating and make a joke.
Along with Michael Tarazi, another lawyer and Ivy League graduate from the Palestinian community in North America, Buttu also took the Palestinian cause into the living rooms of many Israelis. For over a year the Buttu-Tarazi team organised and led discussions with groups of Israelis from all walks of life – explaining to them the benefits of seeking a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.
While Buttu championed the rights of Palestinians under occupation, her pet cause remained the right of return for the millions of Palestinian refugees who were still barred from returning. Although she was part of the diaspora community, she asserted her right to return by accepting Israeli citizenship and she resides for part of every year in Nazareth and Haifa.
She lectured frequently and wrote tirelessly in publications as varied as the New York Times, the Journal of Palestine Studies and various law journals – emphasising the legal right of return and pressing for moral outrage at the lack of implementation of international law and conventions which state that the right of return is an inalienable right.
In a landmark opinion piece published in the New York Times under the name of the Palestinian president and iconic historical leader Yasser Arafat, Buttu assisted in formulating The Palestinian Vision of Peace, which became a public reference on what the Palestinian leadership saw as a pre-requisite for achieving peace with the Israelis.
After the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, Buttu became a legal and media adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. During her tenure she drafted and wrote official position articles and opinion pieces on their behalf in major international publications such as the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.
Since 2009 she has been a member of the legal advisory board of the Norwegian Refugee Council and a legal consultant to the UNDP/PAPP. She currently holds a fellowship at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Boston.