“This is not an ordinary place you can map out with a surveyor’s rod.” So, in this engaging memoir, notes Palestinian intellectual, politician and peace activist Nusseibeh of his lost homeland.
As his narrative opens, Harvard- and Oxford-educated Nusseibeh, long an informal advisor to Yassir Arafat, is awaiting “The Old Man’s” funeral procession in Gaza. Arafat had headed the Palestinian Liberation Organization and, by default, the Palestinian people for more than 40 years, and now in his absence there is every danger of Hamas and other extremist groups taking over, a prospect Nusseibeh dreads. “Arafat was not your run-of-the-mill Arab despot,” he writes, though he faults the leader for lagging behind his people, who really did want peace with Israel, a fact the PLO head seemed unwilling to accept. Ordinary Israelis seemed of a similar mind, though, he writes, the original partition had built an unworkable mess into the process from the start. Along the course of his narrative, Nusseibeh’s wayward politics earn him a savage beating, attacked by a group of young men whose own leader, it develops, is connected to the Jordanian intelligence service. As he recounts, he was in as much danger of being killed by Israeli extremists as Palestinians, but still he advocated a two-state solution, rejecting the idea that Israel should be pushed into the sea and refusing to resort to such rhetoric as “the Zionist entity,” now favored by Hamas, al-Qaeda and company. For his sins, Nusseibeh, apparently without political ambitions, was appointed the PLO administrator over Jerusalem, even though, he recounts, he had many disagreements with Arafat; he vigorously pressed for approaching the post-9/11 American government with the aim of “reconstituting the Camp David alliance,” which, he charges, the Barak government repudiated. “Israelis and Palestinians,” he insists here, “are not enemies at all. . . . If anything, we are strategic allies”—allies who ought to be living at peace.
A humane, responsible entry in a discourse marked by irresponsible inhumanity.