This Side of Peace: A Personal Account, p.174-6
by Hanan Ashrawi
In addition to Faisal, Haidar and myself, the Leadership Committee at first included the reluctant Sari Nusseibeh, head of the Technical Committee set up to provide the delegation with data and alternatives to assist in the negotiations. Sari was neither entirely in nor entirely out of the delegation. As a Jerusalemite (who could trace his lineage to at least thirteen centuries of continuous presence in the city), he was not permitted into the negotiating room. Simultaneously a Fateh organizational activist and an Oxford-Harvard philosopher, Sari would switch roles without prior notice and surprise us all. I often told him that I was perpetually intrigued by the question of which persona would emerge at any given moment. We had been colleagues at Birzeit University since the mid-1970's, and as political independents then had been active in setting up the Employees Union and in negotiating with the different political factions to ensure fair and representative elections. He joined Fateh and became embroiled in factional politics while I continued my work with the Legal Aid Committee and the union.
It was during the early days of my tenure as dean of arts that Sari was beaten up by a gang of hard-line student activists from his own faction for conducting talks with the Israeli Likud Party and signing an agreement with Moshe Amirav, a Likud member. Faisal, who had been part of the talks, was placed under administrative detention by the Israeli authorities. Moshe Amirav was expelled from the Likud Party. Sari got the beating. I immediately called an Arts Faculty Council meeting and we issued a statement defending freedom of expression and political activity and denouncing the use of violence, singling out violence on campus. We urged Sari to return to the university and take up his classes in philosophy and cultural studies. As member of the University Council, I also subscribed to the public statement published in the papers, and became a member of the investigation committee set up to look into the matter. I visited Sari at the hospital and relayed the council's support, while assuring him of protection and respect. When he later returned to the university, I made a point of meeting him at the gate and escorting him to class. What made matters worse was the fact that the Likud contacts had been carried out at the behest of the PLO, and the leadership took its time issuing any official statement that would have exonerated the Palestinian participants.
But that was not the last nor the least of his worries. During the Gulf War, and on the strength of a casual phone call, Sari was accused by the Israelis of spying for Iraq and was placed under administrative detention. We tried to attend the hearing, but were made to wait outside while Sari responded to the charges. His term was reduced from six to three months. As a founding member of the Political Committee, Sari maintained an ambivalent relationship with it, similar to his on-again off-again relationship to the negotiations. At times he would propose creative and daring political initiatives, and at others he would go by the literal factional book. Sometimes he would propose taking bold, unilateral decisions, and at other times he would insist that we were only an information committee not empowered to deal with politics. He often displayed the same ambivalence in working with me, whether in branding me as a media person in line with the opposition and some insecure male politicians, or in supporting and defending my political work and decisions. Throughout, I maintained an unwavering attitude of friendship and respect for one of the most enigmatic Palestinians in our group.
That was the reason I was not surprised at Sari's evasive tactics when Abu Ammar [Arafat] designated him in November 1993 as deputy to the director general of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, PECDAR. As a Woodrow Wilson scholar in Washington, Sari chose to wait out the turbulent period of transition and to update his academic credentials instead. I had occasion to play the intermediary when he found it difficult to refuse or hedge a direct request/instruction from Abu Ammar. From my perspective, the chairman had always held Sari in high esteem despite the ups and downs of their long relationship, and often gave himself the right to take the controversial philosopher-politician for granted, as he did others in Fateh whom he considered to be "his men". Twiddling his lighted cigarette between thumb and forefinger, with his salt-and-pepper hair and sardonic smile and demeanor, Sari would yet play a major role still lying in wait for him in the Palestinian political tapestry of the future. Typically, he managed to avoid appointment to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), preferring to work in his investment counseling group. He may surprise us yet.