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Senior Palestinian Minister Faisal Husseini Dies

Meron Benvenisti, an Israeli writer and former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, in an interview with The New York Times, said, ”If there was a Palestinian person with whom it was possible to achieve a common language, it was Faisal Husseini.”

“The idea of peace, the hope for peace, has been dealt a heavy blow.”

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Husseini “embodied the aspirations of his people and infused their cause with integrity and justice.”

Husseini will be buried in the compound of Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque — a symbol of Palestinian yearning for an independent state. Husseini was tightly linked to the quest for sovereignty over Arab East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state — an issue at the heart of the decades-old conflict.

Israel seized the sector in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it in a move criticized by the international community. Palestinians saw him as the de facto mayor of that part of the city, where he presided over Orient House, the Palestinians’ main political headquarters and the unofficial Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) presence in the city.

A loss for the peace process

Experts on both sides said Husseini’s death could weaken the ranks of Palestinian pragmatists who still support dialogue with Israel after eight months of uprising against Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Husseini was the scion of an illustrious Palestinian family in Jerusalem and son of Abdel-Qader al-Husseini, the foremost Palestinian commander in the Arab fight against Israel’s establishment. The elder Husseini was killed in 1948.

Faisal al-Husseini came to prominence in Israel as its most senior Palestinian political prisoner when he was jailed without trial in the summer of 1987, just before the outbreak of the first Palestinian uprising. Israeli hawks accused him of helping to run that uprising from his cell.

During a brief break in his imprisonment in 1988 he drafted a declaration of independence that influenced the Palestine National Council’s declaration of a state later that year. Released in early 1989, he became the leading spokesman for the uprising, which continued until 1994. He also led his side’s delegation to lay the groundwork for the launch of peace talks between the PLO and Israel in Madrid in 1991, relinquishing the leading role after Arafat was admitted as a negotiating partner in 1993.

Israeli negotiator Yossi Beilin said Israel had lost a partner: “He was a tough negotiator, he was a nationalist. But being a nationalist did not mean that, in his view, that the preference was to hate Israelis. “It will take a long time for someone else to replace him in the cooperation with Israel, in the daily life of Jerusalem and in the negotiations on the future of Jerusalem.”

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