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Silencing a Palestinian Moderate By: Anthony Lewis
New York Times | Monday, July 15, 2002

Why would Israel shut down the office of the leading Palestinian moderate? Many asked that question when Israeli police acted this week against Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds University and the Palestine Liberation Organization's designated representative in Jerusalem. They carted off his files and changed the lock on the door.
Mr. Nusseibeh has been a voice for peace over many years. In 1988, before a two-state solution was policy on either side, he told me that Palestinians should say to Israel: "We don't want to destroy your state, but we want our own state alongside." Last fall he said Palestinians should give up their claim of a right to return to homes in Israel.
In short, he is the perfect example of the new kind of leadership, peaceful and pragmatic, that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel and President Bush have said the Palestinians must have before there can be political negotiations on an end to the conflict. Why target him?
The answer is that important elements in the Israeli government do not want a real two-state solution and do not want political negotiations with a reformed Palestinian leadership. They prefer the present situation: the West Bank occupied or tightly controlled by Israel, with an increasing number of Jewish settlers. The last thing they want is a respected Palestinian interlocutor.
The police raid was ordered by Uzi Landau, minister of public security in the Sharon government. A hard-line member of the Likud Party, Mr. Landau opposed the Oslo agreement, with its call for gradual Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory in favor of Palestinian control.
Jerusalem is a second part of the disinclination to negotiate. Mr. Landau and others on the political right
oppose giving up any part of Israel's claimed sovereignty over greater Jerusalem. But Palestinians say they must have the capital of their state in East Jerusalem, which is overwhelmingly Palestinian in population.
No Palestinian leader would, or politically could, accept a final agreement without at least a small, symbolic Palestinian piece of Jerusalem. The previous Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, recognized as much at Camp David two years ago when he offered the Palestinians sovereignty over parts of East Jerusalem. Israelis like Mr. Landau who say they will refuse to negotiate about Jerusalem are in effect
saying there will be no negotiations.
Mr. Landau said Mr. Nusseibeh's role as Jerusalem representative of the P.L.O. was an effort to "undermine Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem." Mr. Nusseibeh has no power there, but he is visible. And he comes from a family that has been prominent in Jerusalem for centuries. The Nusseibehs hold the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, given to them by the quarreling Christian sects because they could not agree on which should have them.
Where does Prime Minister Sharon stand on these questions? He did not tell Mr. Landau to move against Sari Nusseibeh. But given the positions he has stated frequently, there is no reason to think that he opposed the police raid or disagreed with its objectives.
Mr. Sharon has made clear that his idea of a "Palestinian state," if he ever agreed to its creation, is very
different from the viable state that international negotiators have had in mind. He envisages islands of
Palestinian territory, not contiguous, surrounded by Israeli settlements, highways and military units. It would not include any part of Jerusalem.
Mr. Sharon and Mr. Landau did not worry about United States reaction to the Nusseibeh raid. They believe they have carte blanche from President Bush to act as they wish against the Palestinians. Mr. Bush's recent speech really withdrew the United States from an active role for the moment. So Israel felt no sting from a White House statement that the Nusseibeh raid was "troubling."
All this must fascinate Sari Nusseibeh, who is really not a politician but an Oxford-educated philosopher. This spring he, a Muslim, used a Christian metaphor in a comment to David Remnick of The New Yorker. "The Palestinians," he said, "have to resurrect the spirit of Christ to absorb the
sense of pain and insult they feel and control it, and not let it determine the way they act toward Israel. They have to realize that an act of violence does not serve their interest. This is a gigantic undertaking."
Anthony Lewis is a former Times columnist.

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