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last updated July 26, 2010 3:10 PM (EST+7)
Sari Nusseibeh
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PLO al-Quds University philosophy Medieval Arabic philosophy moral philosophy political philosophy history of philosophy negotiations track three negotiations Geneva Initiative Jerusalem
Sari Nusseibeh is a professor of Islamic philosophy and president of al-Quds University. He is the former Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) representative in Jerusalem. He is co-author of the people’s voice initiative to build grassroots support for a two-state solution.

News on Sari Nusseibeh
INTERVIEW: Palestinian academic promotes federation with IsraelFeb. 21, 2012
INTERVIEW: Palestinian academic promotes federation with IsraelFeb. 21, 2012


Nusseibeh was born in 1949 in Damascus. He currently lives in Abu Dis. His mother was from a Palestinian family from Ramla, near Tel Aviv, but she became a refugee during the 1948 war. His father was a distinguished statesman, prominent in Palestinian politics and diplomacy. His father’s family members were originally wealthy landowners in the Jerusalem area, with a prestigious role in Jerusalem’s history.

He studied politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University and graduated in 1971. After graduating, he went to live with relatives in Abu Dhabi, where he worked for the Abu Dhabi Oil Company and as a columnist for the Abu Dhabi News. He won a scholarship to study for his doctorate at Harvard in 1974, and completed his studies with a D. Phil in Islamic philosophy in 1978. Nusseibeh describes himself as an essentially non-political person, drawn to politics by the unavoidable daily issues that arise from living under military occupation.

He returned to the West Bank in 1978 to teach at Birzeit University, where he was professor of philosophy until the university closed from 1988 to 1990 during the first Intifada. He also taught Islamic philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. During the early 1980s he helped organize the teachers’ union at Birzeit, and served three terms as president of the union of faculty staff. He also co-founded the federation of employees in the education sector for the entire occupied West Bank.

In June 1987, Nusseibeh suggested that the Palestinians should recognize Israel, and that Israel should annex the occupied territories, reunify the country and give full citizenship to Palestinians in a single bi-national state. This view was deemed highly controversial in Palestinian society. He believed that talking openly about annexation was the only way to make Israel realize the fact that they had to choose between bi-nationalism and a two state solution.

In July 1987, Nusseibeh and Faisal Husseini met Moshe Amirav, a member of the Likud party. They were the first prominent Palestinians to meet with a member of the Israeli right. Due to this meeting, Nusseibeh was assaulted by several Palestinian students at Birzeit. Husseini was jailed for attending the meeting, and Amirav was expelled from Likud.

Nusseibeh was an important leader during the first Intifada. He authored the Palestinian Declaration of Principles and worked to strengthen the Fateh movement in the occupied Palestinian territories. He also helped to author the “inside” Palestinians’ declaration of independence, issued during the first Intifada, and helped create the 200 political committees and 28 technical committees that were intended to be an embryonic infrastructure for a future Palestinian administration.

Nusseibeh’s aim was to strengthen Fateh in the occupied Palestinian territories, by creating a link between the academic negotiating class and the activists. However, it was done without external consultation, which led to accusations that he was making a grab for power, and alienated many of the external PLO as well as the non-Fateh PLO internal factions.

During the 1991 Gulf war, following the firing of Scud missiles at Tel Aviv, Nusseibeh worked with the Israeli Peace Now on a common approach to condemn the killing of civilians in the war. But he was arrested and placed under administrative detention on 29 January 1991, accused of being an Iraqi agent. Palestinians saw the arrest as a political warning that Israel did not intend to negotiate with any Palestinian leader, no matter how moderate. He was released without charge shortly after the end of the war.

Nusseibeh was not politically active during much of the Oslo Peace Process, but was appointed PLO representative in Jerusalem in 2001. During this period he began to suggest that Palestinians give up their Right of Return, in exchange for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, also considered a controversial suggestion. In January 2002 he criticized the militarization of the second Intifada, and called for the renunciation of suicide bombings and the establishment of Palestine as a demilitarized state.

In 2002 Nusseibeh and former Shin Bet director, Ami Ayalon, published the People’s Voice, or the Geneva Accord, an Israeli-Palestinian civil initiative that aims to advance the process of achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This draft peace agreement called for a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders and for a compromise on the Palestinian refugees’ right of return. This initiative was officially launched on 25 June 2003.
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