Nabil Sha’ath has been a top Palestinian official for decades, serving as foreign minister, ambassador to the UN, planning minister, and in many other posts. He has been in the Fatah Party Central Committee and the Palestine Legislative Council. He accompanied Yasser Arafat to the United Nations as early as 1974. He was for years a key negotiator with Israel, and was a central figure in the PLO’s delegation at the Madrid Conference. My own experience with him was in 2003, when he was part of a Palestinian delegation to Washington. There he was one of several Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders who met with President Bush. Afterwards, Sha’ath told the press the following:
President Bush said to all of us: ‘I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan. And I did, and then God would tell me, George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq… And I did. And now, again, I feel God’s words coming to me, Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East. And by God I’m gonna do it.’
As the White House said at the time, this was a complete fabrication. No other Palestinian who met with the President made such a claim, and Sha’ath was of course never alone with the President. It was simply false, start to finish. In the aftermath, the PA leaders were told not to bring Sha’ath to Washington in future visits because no one would see him. From 2003 to 2008 he stayed away, but I am told he has been around again in the last four years under a different U.S. president. If that is accurate it was a mistake for the Obama administration, for the problem with Sha’ath was not that he had insulted George Bush but that he had demonstrated he was simply untrustworthy.
Sha’ath is back in the news. He was a member of the Palestinian delegation to the UN last week, has just published an op-ed in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, and went to Gaza right after the recent fighting to give a speech that MEMRI reported.
Here are some of the things he said to Israelis on November 29:
The Palestinian leadership remains committed to the political process whereby all final status issues will be resolved through direct negotiations….The PLO will use every peaceful and diplomatic tool within the framework of international law….The enhancement of Palestine’s status is not an attempt to delegitimize Israel….
Now compare his remarks at a Hamas victory rally in Gaza on November 22:
Congratulations to the martyrs, and Allah’s mercy upon the hero Ahmad Ja’bari and upon all the martyrs….The battle that you are waging has been going on for a hundred years. This people has been fighting for a hundred years to liberate its land, and to liberate Jerusalem. When you shout out that you are marching toward Jerusalem – well, this is exactly what your victory is doing….It is defending Jerusalem and Palestine in its entirety, by all means of resistance – by armed resistance, by political resistance, by going to the U.N., by solidarity – by all forms of confrontation with the enemy occupying our land.
There is of course something ridiculous and grotesque about this portly and quite wealthy Ph.D. going to Gaza to cheer on Hamas terrorism. But it is not amusing to see someone who has long been a leading Fatah, PLO, and PA official embracing violence and terror. The man he calls a “hero and martyr,” Jabari, led Hamas’s terrorist activities and helped oversee its takeover of Gaza–from the very PA that made Sha’ath a top official.
Why is any of this worthy of note? Because the political failure of the Palestinian Authority–which is to say of the Fatah Party and of the PLO–against Hamas is significant. Since Arafat’s death in 2004, the leadership group has generally failed–to win the 2006 elections, to prevent Hamas from taking Gaza, to develop a new generation of uncorrupted and popular candidates, and to produce the underpinnings of a state. Such institutional and economic progress as has been made has largely been the work of Salam Fayyad, the PA prime minister, who is not even a member of Fatah and is deeply unpopular within its ranks.
How can one explain the record of failure? It isn’t hard when one looks at Sha’ath and his own record, including his latest act down in Gaza. Why after all would Palestinians vote for a Fatah/PLO/PA leadership group that perpetuates itself in power decade after decade, and seems so lacking in commitment to its own professed principles that Hamas terror can be cheered? And, by the way, why would Israelis believe serious negotiations are possible with a Fatah/PLO/PA leadership when they hear Hamas being told “The battle that you are waging has been going on for a hundred years–” in other words, it is not about the 1967 borders or even the 1948 borders but about the right of Jews to live in Israel. The story of Nabil Sha’ath helps explain why Fatah is losing, and why the chances for peace seem dimmer these days than ever.