In a profile of Jerusalem’s Sari Nusseibeh, published today in the Guardian, the paper’s Middle East Editor Ian Black writes: “Like so many Palestinians of his generation, Sari Nusseibeh looks back at years of struggle that have achieved precious little. His entire adult life has been spent in the shadow of conflict with Israel and it is difficult to find even a glimmer of optimism that it is going to be resolved any time soon. Yet Nusseibeh, a prominent intellectual and philosopher, believes it could be. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and Ehud Olmert, Israel’s prime minister, should, he argues, launch a new peace process at the forthcoming Annapolis conference – and then campaign among their respective electorates for a mandate to negotiate a final peace settlement…
Nusseibeh told Black: “If you think about it, when we talk about politics and history and how events unfold, sometimes we talk as if it’s all about metaphysical forces. We assume, like in this case, that there are objective impossibilities. I am a pragmatic philosopher. And when you look a bit more closely you realise that in the final analysis it’s not so complicated. It can be reduced to the actions of a person, and that person can in fact make a lot of difference … Things could work out if people put their minds to it … My faith is in the power of people to write history. One of the tragedies is that we very often sit back feeling that we have no power and that all we can do is express is our optimism or pessimism.”
Black’s profile reports that: ” ‘Until 1967’, he writes in his memoirs Once Upon a Country, published in Britain this week, ‘we had hardly existed in the minds of these fine people. [n.b. Israelis] This absence wasn’t a product of malevolence or ill will. Physically, we simply weren’t part of their world, with most Arabs having been cleared out 20 years earlier. Morally speaking, it was a case of out of sight, out of mind. Their humanism never had to face us’ … Nusseibeh recognised that Jews had emotional claims on the holy land (their roots in Jerusalem ‘existential and umbilical’), and refused to see Zionism as just another facet of western colonialism, or to ignore the role of the Nazi Holocaust in forging Jewish nationalism. ‘Isn’t the ability to imagine the lives of the ‘other’ at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?’ he asks … ‘The thing is not to try to change their ideology, but to win the people over to one’s own side. The relevant issue is not whether the ideology exists but how much support it has’. In 2002, at the height of the second intifada, with its bus bombings, martyrs and Israeli re-conquest of the West Bank (‘a catastrophic, slapdash brawl … a ruinous and sanguinary fit of madness’) Nusseibeh teamed up with Ami Ayalon, the dovish former head of Israel’s Shin Bet secret service [n.b., now a Minister without Portfolio in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s cabinet], to try to galvanize the majority of people on both sides who say they want to live in ‘two states for two nations’ – but doubt whether it can ever be achieved … ‘In retrospect people will feel it was stupid to spend so much time over dividing this piece of land’, he muses. ‘I’m not saying it’s easy to reach a mathematical solution, but such a solution does still exist. I’m not saying that it’s guaranteed. It’s a question of deciding in which direction to walk’.”
Ian Black’s profile of Sari Nusseibeh in today’s Guardian is here.