Is Nusseibeh a Con Man?

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It is far more preferable to listen to soothing presentations by Nusseibeh than to the more traditional rejectionist Palestinian statements calling for Israel’s destruction. The writer is senior vice president of the World Jewish Congress.

Prof. Sari Nusseibeh is emerging as the darling of the Western liberal media and, despite being a senior Palestinian Authority officer, he has also become admired by many liberal Israelis. Tough and unyielding for the return to 1967 borders and the dismantlement of all settlements, he displays a somewhat more pragmatic approach in relation to issues such as the right of return for Arab refugees and terrorism.

Nusseibeh’s approval reminds me of conversations I had with the late Faisal Husseini, his predecessor as PA Chairman Yasser Arafat’s Jerusalem representative. Husseini also, was cultured and cosmopolitan and able to present the Palestinian position in a sophisticated manner.

In the heat of the intifada, shortly before his death, he expressed his true feelings in an interview with an Egyptian newspaper. Husseini said: “We must distinguish the strategies and long-term goals from the political-phased goals which we are compelled to accept due to international pressures.” But the “ultimate goal is the liberation of all historic Palestine.” Explicitly he said: “Oslo had to be viewed as a Trojan horse” – a concept that, together with a number of Israeli politicians, I also attribute to Nusseibeh.

Nusseibeh’s amicable and soothing tone kindles memories for Israelis of other times before they had woken up to the realization that the “irreversible peace process” and Arafat’s “peace of the brave” were cruel illusions. Now the onus rests on Nusseibeh to prove that he should not be bracketed with Husseini.

If, in politics, all is relative, then of course, Nusseibeh’s image is that of a paragon of moderation and restraint compared to the PA reality – a reality that does not even recognize the Jewish people’s relationship to Jerusalem.

Thus the Israeli and Western press have extolled Nusseibeh’s qualities of “moderation” and “courage.” Last week Foreign Minister Shimon Peres described him as a very courageous man and of course Dr. Yossi Beilin and his colleagues point to Nusseibeh as evidence that Oslo has not failed.

The jury is still out as to whether Nusseibeh is sincere or duplicitous. However, at the end of the day the jury’s findings are somewhat irrelevant, because Nusseibeh is simply not an independent leader. He is a mere figurehead in Palestinian affairs and has no influence within the PA.

Nusseibeh was appointed by Arafat. He reports to Arafat. He takes instructions from Arafat. And no-one would suggest that Arafat is inclined to tolerate dissent or encourage political pluralism within his ranks.

Which is why Nusseibeh’s behavior does not imply “moderate” dissent from Arafat. It is more likely a propaganda weapon ultimately controlled by Arafat – a man who has established a consistent tradition of speaking with a forked tongue.

INDEED, THIS probably explains why Nusseibeh’s purportedly “moderate” views are primarily ventilated in the Israeli and Western media. There is, for example, little exposure in the Arab media of his suggestion that the Arab refugee right of return to Israel be taken out of the quotient if Israel agrees to an unconditional withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders. In this way, he is effectively quarantined from his own people and the views he conveys to Israelis and the Western media have no chance of infecting the Palestinian street.

Indeed, other than providing comfort to Beilin and others who remain committed to the Oslo Accords, it would appear that Nusseibeh’s principal role is to exploit the profound desire for peace amongst Israelis and try to encourage them to revert to their former illusions about Arafat as a peace partner.

But we must avoid deluding ourselves. For despite charm and a pleasant manner of presentation, Nusseibeh is neither a courageous nor an independent Palestinian peace warrior. He remains an instrument of a ruthless dictator who has an absolutely consistent track record of having betrayed every trust and agreement entered into with friend and foe alike.

Until Nusseibeh can promote moderation among his Palestinian kinsmen via their own media, their own schools, and their own mosques, Israelis should relate to him with healthy skepticism. At best he is a propagandist playing his role in a good cop, bad cop performance orchestrated by Arafat. At worst he is a straightforward con man.

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