"This conviction that, however well intentioned, the Americans were naive and didn't understand the Arabs, was shared by almost every Israeli with whom we worked...
I felt much the same sense of familiarity yet distance in dealing with my Palestinian and Arab colleagues. Saeb Erekat could have been the Palestinian Bibi. He had a green card, a degree from San Francisco State University, and an impressive command of American and English vernacular. We were friends, as were our daughters and wives. I'd been to his home in Jericho, and he'd been to mine in suburban Washington. We'd shared many a water pipe, late into the night, talking about negotiations and life. At times, with his Ph.D. and his academic bent, he seemed like a graduate school colleague in Ann Arbor.
But then I'd watch him in negotiations, at meetings with Arafat, and on CNN defending Palestinian interests, and I'd realize how little we really had in common. Saeb often said that he wasn't pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, just pro-peace. It was a good line, and I think he menat it. But it really didn't reflect his reality. He was a Palestinian Muslim living under Israeli occupation whose every move - even with VIP permits, a driver, and a high-end European car - depended on Israel's sufferance. I lost count of the number of times Saeb would call us when we were in Israel to tell us he'd be late for a meeting because he was held up at a checkpoint , or ask for our help in getting the Israelis to help one of his colleagues. And his professional career - now that he had left the world of the university - was tied to Arafat's whims and to the rough-and-tumble of Palestinian politics. In Oslo in 1998 I once witnessed Saeb's colleagues hound and pound him so badly that they literally drove him out of the room. Palestinian politics, like Israeli politics, can be cruel and unforgiving. Without a street reputation, jail time, or participation in the armed struggle (Saeb had none of these credentials), you had to take more than your fair share of hits.
Saeb was also a father, and his world made him vulnerable in that role as well. Two of his four children went through the Seeds of Peace program, which brings young Arabs and Israelis together for coexistence and conflict resolution programs. But then in 2002 he confided in me his fear that his youngest son, Muhammad, might be approached at school and pressured to become a shahid or martyr for the Palestinian cause. I was stunned. My son and daughter attended private schools in Washington, where my worst fear for them was that they might not get into the colleges they had their hearts set on."
Aaron David Miller
The Much Too Promised Land, Random House, 2008.
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