Top Palestinian official in Jerusalem dies at 61


JERUSALEM, May 31 (JTA) — The top Palestinian official in charge of Jerusalem affairs died this week of a heart attack while on a visit to Kuwait.

Many Israelis considered Faisal Husseini, 61, a relative moderate in Palestinian politics.

Yossi Beilin, a former negotiator with the Palestinians and a leading Israeli dove, said Thursday that Israel had lost a negotiating partner.

“He was a tough negotiator. He was a nationalist,” Beilin said. “But being a nationalist did not mean, in his view, that the preference was to hate Israelis.

“I remember talking to him at length about a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation, and he would say to me, ‘Why not a Palestinian-Israeli confederation?’ “

Israel’s left-wing Meretz Party issued a statement of condolences, saying the Palestinian people had lost one of its great sons, who represented his people with honor, courage and responsibility.

However, many of Husseini’s comments worried Israelis, who felt that his moderate image was highly relative.

Husseini freely told journalists that while the Palestinians were demanding a state only on land Israel had conquered in the 1967 Six Day War, such an arrangement would not necessarily bind coming generations of Palestinians.

In March, he told a Beirut audience that the Palestinian goal remained an Arab state in the entire territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and that his frequent contacts with Israeli officials were a necessary evil designed to put an end to relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Reports said Husseini died Thursday in his hotel room before attending an Arab conference against normalization of ties with Israel.

According to Reuters, a call Husseini made for improved Palestinian ties with Kuwait — which severed relations with the Palestinian leadership after Yasser Arafat supported Iraq during the Persian Gulf war — set off an uproar in Kuwait’s Parliament on Wednesday.

Several Kuwaiti lawmakers reportedly said Wednesday that Arafat is still unwelcome in the Gulf state.

Husseini’s body was to be flown from Kuwait to Amman in a helicopter belonging to Jordan’s King Abdullah. From there, it was to be transferred to the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Husseini was to be buried in Jerusalem on Friday, next to his father’s grave in a cemetery near the Temple Mount.

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, in Brussels at the time of Husseini’s death, said the Palestinian people had lost one of its great figures. Arafat described Husseini as a friend who was by his side through every phase of life — though the two clashed repeatedly over Husseini’s attempts to build his own base of political support within Palestinian society.

A Palestinian Authority statement called Husseini a martyr, promising him “and all other Palestinian martyrs to continue their path until we regain our right to a Palestinian state and Jerusalem as its capital.”

Black flags were hung at Orient House, the de facto Palestinian headquarters in eastern Jerusalem, which Husseini headed.

Palestinians also declared a three-day commercial strike in eastern Jerusalem in a sign of mourning.

Born in Baghdad in 1940, Husseini came from an aristocratic Palestinian family.

He was the son of Abdelkhader Husseini, who led the strongest Arab militia fighting Israel during its 1948 War of Independence, and the nephew of Hajj Amin Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem for much of the British Mandate era.

Husseini was involved with the PLO almost since its inception in 1964. During the 1980s, he spent time under house arrest and in administrative detention in Israeli jails.

Although he had no formal role in the 1991 Madrid peace talks or the secret Oslo negotiations two years later, Husseini played an unofficial, advisory role in them.

A fluent Hebrew and English speaker, he was frequently interviewed in the media.

Husseini did not run in the 1996 Palestinian legislative elections, because he would have been required to move his official residence from eastern Jerusalem.

As the official in charge of Jerusalem affairs, he had Cabinet-level status within the Palestinian Authority.

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