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The BBC's Chris Morris
"A voice of moderation within the Palestinian political spectrum"
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Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian Legislative Council
"Losing him is a national loss"
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Thursday, 31 May, 2001, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Faisal Husseini: More diplomat than politician
Faisal Husseini, left, with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Faisal Husseini, pictured with the Palestinian leader, championed the Palestinian claim to East Jerusalem
By Middle East analyst Gerald Butt

Faisal Husseini, the senior official of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in Jerusalem, was a man who many observers thought might one day become the leader of the Palestinian people.

He was certainly a prominent figure in the movement - holding the Palestinian flag in the Arab eastern half of Jerusalem, the section of the city claimed by Palestinians as the capital of their future state.

Faisal Husseini in London
Mr Husseini learned Hebrew and appeared on Israeli chat shows
But much as Faisal Husseini enjoyed widespread respect for his integrity and dedication to the Palestinian cause, his quiet, bookish manner and the impression that he sometimes gave of aloofness meant that he lacked both charisma and the common touch.

As a result, he failed to win the emotional support of many rank and file Palestinians, particularly those living in refugee camps around the Middle East.

Family history

Mr Husseini's pedigree as a contender for leader of the Palestinians was impeccable.

He was born in July 1940 into one of the most prominent Palestinian families. Members have been religious and political leaders in Jerusalem since the 19th Century.

His father Abdel Qader Husseini is remembered by Palestinians as a hero of the armed struggle with the Jews around the time of the creation of Israel in 1948, eventually being killed in one of the crucial battles for control of the roads leading into Jerusalem.

Mr Husseini was more suited to the role of diplomat than politician

Faisal Husseini's political role began in 1964 when he joined the PLO and moved back to Jerusalem.

He became a leading figure in protests against Israel's settlement expansion policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He was arrested several times and spent many months in Israeli prisons.

During the first Palestinian uprising or intifada against Israeli occupation of Arab land, which began in 1987, Mr Husseini became known around the world as a spokesman for his people.

He also resolutely resisted attempts by more than one Israeli government to close down Orient House in Jerusalem - the unofficial headquarters of the PLO in the city.

It was here that Mr Husseini met a series of visiting statesmen from abroad, despite Israeli attempts to prevent such contacts that implied sanctification of the PLO's presence in Jerusalem.

Peace moves

Despite his resolute dedication to the Palestinian cause, Mr Husseini was a pragmatist. He argued that the best way to understand Israelis and try to convince them of the injustice suffered by the Palestinians was to get to know them.

Faisal Husseini holding an olive branch and a Palestinian flag in East Jerusalem
Mr Husseini tried to mend relations
To this end he taught himself to speak Hebrew and, unlike many others in the PLO leadership, actively sought opportunities to appear in radio and television chat shows in Israel to explain the Palestinians' point of view.

Mr Husseini was more suited to the role of diplomat than politician and he might well have held a senior position in this capacity, perhaps as foreign minister, in a Palestinian state.

Indeed it was in the course of performing just such a delicate diplomatic role that he happened to be in Kuwait when he died - trying to mend relations between the Kuwaiti government and PLO which were broken at the time of the 1991 Gulf War.

With his death, the Palestinians have not only lost a senior figure in their leadership, but their hold on East Jerusalem suddenly looks a lot less secure.

Gerald Butt is Gulf Editor of Middle East Economic Survey (MEES)

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31 May 01 | Middle East
Top Palestinian official dies
30 May 01 | Middle East
Angry welcome for Palestinian in Kuwait
30 May 01 | Middle East
Mid-East talks resume amid clashes
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