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Nusseibeh, Shut Down by Israel, Calls for Direct Contact, Mutual Trust

July 11, 2002
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The balcony of the office of the president of Al-Quds University does not look out onto a sprawling campus, with large classroom buildings and students walking around.

Instead, the administrative office of Al-Quds stands isolated along a street in eastern Jerusalem — separated from the rest of the university, parts as far as away as Ramallah, across checkpoints and military blockades.

Perhaps the location is appropriate for the university’s president, Sari Nusseibeh, whose offices were shut down by Israeli authorities on Tuesday.

As the Palestinian Authority’s representative in Jerusalem, Nusseibeh is the main conduit between the Ramallah leadership and the Palestinians’ desired capital.

But he is also distant in ideology from the rest of the Palestinian hierarchy, urging the Palestinian people to withdraw their demand of a right of return to lands within Israel, and calling for the end of suicide bombings as a form of resistance.

His position once had Cabinet standing in the Palestinian Authority, but when Yasser Arafat streamlined his government earlier this spring, Nusseibeh was removed from the inner circle.

And although he has close ties to Israel’s Peace Now movement, he has mostly been shunned by Israelis, even as he stresses the need for communication between the two sides.

Israel said it was closing the administrative office because it was being used by the Palestinian Authority, in violation of the Oslo peace accords.

“Sari Nusseibeh’s amiability should not mislead us into thinking that he can’t be used, like the Trojan horse, to steal in and undermine Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem,” said Uzi Landau, Israel’s minister of public security.

The Harvard- and Oxford-educated scholar has run the school since 1995. As a dove, he was considered an unlikely choice last year when Arafat named him to replace the late Faisal Husseini as the leading Palestinian official in Jerusalem.

Nusseibeh was traveling abroad when the Israelis shut down his office.

But a few weeks before, Nusseibeh stressed the need for both parties to break the vicious cycle of violence.

“The path to peace has vanished and people have become more extremist in their views and toward each other,” Nusseibeh said in a late June interview with JTA.

He had just been meeting with leaders of Peace Now about the latest Palestinian initiative to halt the violence.

On the heels of two attacks in Jerusalem that had killed 26 Israelis and injured 120 people, Nusseibeh had joined several Palestinian leaders in signing an open petition against suicide bombers.

The problem, he said, cannot be solved through security or political negotiations, but through direct contact.

“The first block that has to be put in place is mutual trust,” he said. “Then you can build block by block.”

Nusseibeh is a strong follower of the plan Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Clinton laid on the table at Camp David in 2000.

He calls for Palestinian sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza, with land swaps to accommodate settlements with dense Israeli populations; a Jerusalem with divided sovereignty and the right of Palestinians to return to the new Palestinian state, but not to Israel.

“I would have signed it myself,” Nusseibeh said of the plan, which Arafat rejected. “Whoever didn’t was mistaken.”

He said Palestinians must realize they must give something tangible up in order to have the reward of an independent state. Many have been unable to let go of the notion of the right of return, which Nusseibeh says has been the stumbling point.

“It is the part the Palestinians have to put up with as a price for a historic settlement,” he said. “But it has to be, therefore, a historic settlement. We have to be satisfied.”

And that means, in his view, a Palestinian state on almost all of the Palestinian territory lost in the 1967 Six- Day War.

“They have to,” Nusseibeh said of Israel returning to the pre-1967 lines. “Not because God drew them, but they have to give us some kind of marker which we can rely on.”

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