Who was Faisal Husseini?
Faisal Husseini was the PLO representative in Jerusalem and a Palestinian Authority (PA) minister, born in Baghdad in 1940. For centuries, the Husseinis have been landowners, mayors and Islamic leaders. His grandfather, Musa Qassem Hussein, led Palestinian opposition to the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. His uncle Haj Amin was the notorious Grand Mufti of Jerusalem whose agitations against British mandatory rule and Jewish immigration sparked the Arab riots of 1936-1939. His father died in the war that ended in Israel’s founding in 1948.
He met Yasser Arafat (his distant cousin) in Egypt and joined his Fatah and the PLO during the early years. At that time, Israel did not control the disputedJudea-Samaria-Gaza territories, and not a single Jewish settlement existed in those areas; the "Palestine" that Husseini and the PLO were seeking to "liberate" was pre-1967 Israel. Husseini served with PLO forces in Syria, where he was an explosives expert and later boasted that he personally trained 1,200 terrorists in the art of making and placing explosives. In1968, Husseini was sentenced to prison by Israel after he was convicted of assisting a terrorist cell by storing their weapons and ammunition in his home. Over the years, he was jailed or put under house arrest several times. Husseini's defining achievement was the founding of the Arab Studies Society in 1978, which was eventually to transform Orient House from a hotel owned by the Husseini family into the seat of Palestinian power in Jerusalem, making it the headquarters for the PLO in the city. He became one of the leaders behind the Palestinian participation in the seminal Madrid peace conference in 1991. When Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian leadership returned from Tunisia in 1994, Husseini was seen as a rival and pushed somewhat to the sidelines of power. He nurtured several academics, such as Hanan Ashrawi and Saeb Erekat, who became influential during the peacemaking era. Husseini was the leading Palestinian figure in Jerusalem, out of Orient House, even though Arafat continued to try to undercut him. Faisal Husseini died of a heart attack on June 1, 2001 while attending a conference in Kuwait on freezing "normalization" with Israel. Considered a moderate, some Israelis attended his funeral out of respect for his efforts during the peace process. However, his published views included the vision of a Palestine that would include all of Israel. In a speech in Beirut in April 2001, Husseini said:
- ... there is a difference between the strategic goal of the Palestinian people, which is not willing to give up even one grain of Palestinian soil, and the political [tactical] effort that has to do with the [present] balance of power and with the nature of the present international system. The latter is a different effort than the former. We may lose or win [tactically] but our eyes will continue to aspire to the strategic goal, namely, to Palestine from the river to the sea. Whatever we get now cannot make us forget this supreme truth.
- The Palestinians are waging a war of independence that will end only when the last Israeli settler leaves the territories, and when Palestinians become a majority in the Holy Land, they will decide whether to allow the Jews to have a state.