Wednesday, April 17, 2002
When Diana Buttu was growing up in Toronto, she saw ill-spoken burly men on TV railing about "Palestine." She felt no connection to them, even though her parents had emigrated from Palestinian villages in Israel before she was born.
But as an adult, and as an expert in international law, she watched the Camp David talks stumble in July, 2000, and realized that poor communications and lousy public relations had an impact, badly undermining the interests of Palestinians.
"They didn't realize that the justice of their cause was not going to transmit down to the people on the street on its own," she said.
Two years after Camp David, the 31-year-old is part of a new generation of overseas Palestinians who have come to the West Bank as well-educated, well-paid, and very well-spoken technocrats in the circle of the old burly men. Today, Ms. Buttu has put her doctorate in refugee issues at Stanford University on hold to act as a legal and communications adviser to Yasser Arafat's negotiating team.
Personally, I haven't thought of poor public relations as a big problem for the PLO. If Ronald Reagan was the Teflon President, Yasser Arafat must be the Teflon Terrorist. Arafat can wear a pistol in the U.N., PLO murderers can wreak havoc around the world in places such as Munich, on cruise ships and airplanes, and in the West Bank, and the press remains generally positive. These guys can call for martyrdom attacks in Arabic and still get away with mouthing non-violence in English. They're not terrorists, they're activists. How could the PR be any better?
Nevertheless, I'd like to think that the entree of Canadian Palestinians into the PA could -- somehow -- help. (It can't possibly hurt.) If some of these folks can influence the thinking of some of the PA stalwarts, even just on the margin, maybe just maybe a few lives will be saved. Just a wishful thought. From the article:
Today, Ms. Buttu estimates that she and her colleagues have made at least 70 presentations to Israeli groups, many of them Tupperware party-style gatherings in the homes of people of all political stripes. They use maps and explain why the PLO rejected the Camp David deal./i>
Often the meetings are hostile, she said, but then so was a presentation she made to Arab Canadians last year where a man blasted her for calling suicide bombers terrorists. "He said, 'How can you say that about someone who is fighting for freedom?' I had to say to him, 'No he isn't a freedom fighter. It doesn't take us one step closer to freedom when you blow yourself up and take three Israelis with you.' This is not what I want for Palestinian society: it's morally and politically reprehensible."