Israeli, Palestinian war of words on separate screens

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Story highlights

  • Former legal adviser to the PLO refuses to appear on CNN with Israeli government official
  • Tensions have been on the rise since four teens, three Israeli and one Palestinian, were killed
  • Israeli spokesman calls for dialogue, criticizes Hamas-Fatah unity government

The tension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be felt on CNN on Saturday morning when a prominent Palestinian-Canadian human rights attorney refused to appear on screen with a representative of the Israeli government.

On CNN's "New Day Saturday," Diana Buttu -- a former legal adviser to the Palestinian Liberation Organization -- said she would not go on television at the same time as "an Israeli government spokesperson who defends the indefensible."

The two would have appeared on a split screen. Buttu was speaking from Nazareth, while Mark Regev -- the Israeli spokesman -- was in Jerusalem.

"This isn't just a question of talking and sitting down in the same room but the fact that Israel has denied the freedom to millions of Palestinians for decades now," Buttu said.

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While it's not uncommon for advocates in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to refuse to appear beside people with opposing viewpoints, these situations highlight the increasingly intractable nature of the conflict.

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Violence has sharply increased in the region since three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped last month in the West Bank and found dead this week. Two days later, a Palestinian teen was taken in Jerusalem and found dead; an autopsy revealed he was burned alive and hit with a blunt object to the head.

Buttu was highly critical of Israel's airstrikes in response to the West Bank kidnappings, but did condemn Palestinians who are calling for a third intifada, or uprising.

    "What every (Israeli) government spokesperson has been doing has been defending the collective punishment that they've meted out on thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank," Buttu said.

    Regev, who spoke after Buttu, said communication between the two sides is a necessary part of the peace process.

    "I think the only way we can overcome the problems is by dialogue, by talking -- by Israelis and Palestinians engaging," Regev said. "I know there's an extremist element on the Palestinian side that refuses to that."

    Regev also criticized the recently formed unity government between Fatah, which governs the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza and is labeled a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

    "We're ready for peace, we're ready for dialogue," Regev said. "What is the problem? On the Palestinian side there's a tolerance for this extremism."

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