Sari Nusseibeh

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Sari Nusseibeh at 2012 Leipzig Book Fair

Sari Nusseibeh (Arabic: سري نسيبة‎) (born in 1949) is a Palestinian Professor of Philosophy and President of the Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. Until December 2002 he was the representative of the Palestinian National Authority in that city.

Family background[edit]

The Nusseibeh boast of a 1,300 year presence in Jerusalem, being descended from Ubayda ibn as-Samit, the brother of Nusaybah bint Ka'ab, a female warrior from the Banu Khazraj of Arabia, and one of the four women leaders of the 14 tribes of early Islam. Ubadya, a companion of Umar ibn al-Khattab, was appointed the first Muslim high judge of Jerusalem after its conquest in 638 C.E.,together with an obligation to keep the Holy Rock, now the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount, clean.[dubious ]

The family retained an exclusive right to the keys of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre down to the Ottoman period, when the Joudeh family obtained a warrant to share possession. To this day, the Nusseibeh family are trustees, and upon receiving the keys from a member of the Joudeh clan, the Nusseibeh turn them over to the warden of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre around dawn every day.[1]

Nusseibeh's grandfather successively married into three different Palestinian families of notables, the Shihabi, noted for their scholarship; the Darwish of the powerful al-Husayni clan; and to the Nashashibi, and thus, in Nusseibeh's words: 'in a matter of a few years [...] managed to stitch together four ancient Jerusalem families, two of which were bitter rivals'.[2]


Nusseibeh was born in Damascus, Syria, to the politician Anwar Nusseibeh who was a distinguished statesman, prominent in Palestinian and (after 1948) Palestinian-Jordanian politics and diplomacy, and Nuzha Al-Ghussein, who descended from Palestine's wealthy landed aristocracy and is the daughter of Palestinian political leader Yaqub al-Ghusayn.

Nusseibeh studied philosophy at Christ Church, Oxford, and has a Ph.D. in Islamic Philosophy, from Harvard University (1978).[3]

At Oxford, Nusseibeh met Lucy Austin, who is the daughter of British philosopher J.L. Austin, and founder of the organization Middle East Nonviolence and Democracy. They married and have four children, Jamal, Absal, Buraq and Nuzha.[4]

He returned to the West Bank in 1978 to teach at Birzeit University (where he remained as Professor of Philosophy until the University was closed from 1988 to 1990 during the First Intifada). At the same time, he taught classes in Islamic philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel. Through the early 1980s, he helped to organize the teachers' union at Birzeit, and served three terms as president of the union of faculty and staff there. Nusseibeh is also co-founder of the Federation of Employees in the Education Sector for all of the West Bank.

Political activism[edit]

Sari Nusseibeh has long been viewed as a Palestinian moderate. In July 1987, Nusseibeh and Faisal Husseini met with Moshe Amirav, a member of Israel's Likud Party becoming the first prominent Palestinians to meet with a member of the Israeli right. Amirav was testing the waters for a group close to then prime minister Yitzhak Shamir on the possibility of making a historic pact with the PLO and Fatah.[5]

After years of working toward the establishment of a functioning Palestinian state, apparently alongside the state of Israel, Nusseibeh was by 2011 referring to the two-state solution as a "fantasy".[6] In "What's A Palestinian State Worth?" (Harvard University Press, 2011) he called for a "thought experiment" of a single state in which Israel annexed all the territories, and Palestinians would be "second-class citizens" with "civil but not political rights" in which "Jews could run the country while the Arabs could live in it."[7] This specific suggestion was widely viewed as a bluff[8] or as "disingenuous".[9] During this time, Nusseibeh has been speaking of steps toward one version or another of a single-state solution, such as a binational state.[7][10]

The First Intifada[edit]

Nusseibeh was also an important leader during the First Intifada, authoring the Palestinian Declaration of Principles[11] and working to strengthen the Fatah movement in the West Bank; Nusseibeh helped to author the "inside" Palestinians' declaration of independence issued in the First Intifada, and to create the 200 political committees and 28 technical committees that were intended to as an embryonic infrastructure for a future Palestinian administration.

First Gulf War[edit]

Following the firing of Scud missiles at Tel Aviv, Nusseibeh worked with Israeli Peace Now on a common approach to condemn the killing of civilians in the war. But he was arrested and placed under administrative detention on 29 January 1991, effectively accused of being an Iraqi agent.[12] (He had discussed Scud attacks on Tel Aviv with the Iraqi Ambassador at Tunis, which the Israelis alleged made him a spotter for missile attacks). The arrest was then questioned by British and American officials, and the U.S. administration urged that he should either be charged or else the suspicion would be that the arrest was political. He was adopted as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.[13] Palestinians saw the arrest as a political warning that Israel did not intend to negotiate with any Palestinian leader, no matter how moderate. For example, Professor Saeb Erekat of An-Najah University said: "This is a message to us Palestinian moderates. The message is, 'You can forget about negotiations after the war because we are going to make sure there is no one to talk to' ". He was released without charge shortly after the end of the war, after 90 days of imprisonment in Ramle Prison.

Peace Initiatives and Activities Since 2000[edit]

Nusseibeh was not politically active during much of the Oslo Peace Process but was appointed as the PLO Representative in Jerusalem in 2001.[citation needed] During this period Nusseibeh began to strongly suggest that Palestinians give up their Right of Return in exchange for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.[14] A number of Palestinian organizations have strongly condemned his views on this issue.[15]

Nusseibeh criticised the militarization of the intifada in January 2002 and called for the renunciation of suicide bombings and the establishment of Palestine as a demilitarized state: "A Palestinian state should be demilitarized - not because that's what Israel demands, but in our own interest."[citation needed]

In June 2002, Nusseibeh and over 50 leading Palestinians including Hanan Ashrawi signed the first version of a controversial communiqué calling for the end of military operations targeting civilians in Israel. It stated that these attacks only increase hatred and undermine the possibility of living side by side in peace in two neighboring states. [16] In interviews at the time, he stated in the Arab-Israeli press that these attacks were not only counterproductive but that "Palestinians must not sacrifice their moral values." In other Arab press interviews, he stated that he and the other signatories were not making a moral denunciation of such attacks ("we did not condemn and did not appeal to the emotions") but rather a tactical case, claiming "there is a need to reexamine the benefit of the [martyrdom] operations within Israel in the context of the goals we seek to accomplish."[17] During a 2002 Al-Jazeera interview promoting this effort, Nussbeibeh referred to Umm Nidal, the proud mother of three sons who carried out suicide attacks on Israelis, including civilians in at least one case. Nussbeibeh said "When I hear the words of Umm Nidal, I recall the hadith stating that 'Paradise lies under the feet of mothers.' All respect is due to this mother, it is due to every Palestinian mother and every female Palestinian who is a Jihad fighter on this land. I do not wish to mix political statements and political commentary with the respect every Palestinian feels for every Jihad fighter."[17]

In 2002 Sari Nusseibeh and former Shin Bet director, Ami Ayalon published the The People's Voice, an Israeli-Palestinian civil initiative that aims to advance the process of achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and a draft peace agreement that called for a Palestinian state based on Israel's 1967 borders and for a compromise on the Palestinian Right of Return. The People's Voice Initiative was officially launched on June 25, 2003.

In 2002, Yasser Arafat appointed Nusseibeh as the PLO's representative in East Jerusalem, a position he assumed after the sudden death of Faisal Husseini.[18]

In 2008, Nusseibeh said that the quest for the two-state solution was floundering. He called on Palestinians to start a debate on the idea of a one-state solution.[19]

In 2008, in an open online poll, Nusseibeh was voted the 24th most influential intellectual in the world on the list of Top 100 Public Intellectuals by Prospect Magazine (UK) and Foreign Policy (United States).[20]


Nusseibeh is head and founder of the Palestinian Consultancy Group, co-founder and member of several Palestinian institutions including the Jerusalem Friends of the Sick Society, the Federation of Employees in the Education Sector in the West Bank, the Arab Council for Public Affairs, the Committee Confronting the Iron Fist, and the Jerusalem Arab Council. He is also on the advisory board of The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis University.[21]

Internationally, Nusseibeh is a member of the McGill Middle East Program's Executive and Management Committees. In November 2007, following the publication of Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life, he traveled to Montreal, Canada, to lecture on the MMEP and his vision of peace.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nusseibeh 2007, pp. 15–20.
  2. ^ Nusseibeh 2007, p. 24
  3. ^ Linda Benedikt, Interview with Sari Nusseibeh, Media Monitors Network, 9 January 2004, accessed 21 March 2008
  4. ^
  5. ^ Sari Nusseibegh, 'Once Upon a Country',2007 p.253.
  6. ^ Interview conducted by Martin Doerry and Juliane von Mittelstaedt. "A Palestinian Take on the Mideast Conflict: 'The Pursuit of a Two-State Solution Is a Fantasy'" Der Spiegel Online International, February 21, 2012.
  7. ^ a b Naima El Moussaoui "Interview with Sari Nusseibeh: Plea for Radical Pragmatism", September 6, 2012
  8. ^ Tom H. "What is a Sari Nusseibeh For?", Mar 13 2011
  9. ^ David Shulman "Israel & Palestine: Breaking the Silence" New York Review of Books, February 24, 2012
  10. ^ Sari Nusseibeh "How Israel can avoid a hellish future" Haaretz, June 25, 2014
  11. ^ see Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 17, No. 3, Spring 1988, p.63-65 for the text of the Declaration of Principles, also known as the Fourteen Demands
  12. ^ Proof that Saddam bankrolls terrorism: documents seized by Israel in raids against Palestinian Authority offices in the West Bank in recent months detail massive terror funding from the Iraqi dictator - World: Iraq | Insight on the News | Find Articles at
  13. ^ "Israel and the Occupied Territories: Dr. Sari Nusseibeh: prisoner of conscience held in administrative detention". 21 March 1991. Retrieved 22 January 2012. 
  14. ^ [1] Archived May 23, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ [2] Archived September 27, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ [3]"A Palestinian Communiqué Against Martyrdom Attacks", Middle East Media Research Institute, June 25, 2002
  17. ^ a b Middle East Media Research Institute "The Palestinian Debate Over Martyrdom Operations Part II: A Palestinian Communiqué Against the Attacks" July 5, 2002
  18. ^ [4] Arafat deposes Sari Nusseibeh
  19. ^ Ross, Oakland. Palestinians revive idea of one-state solution. The Toronto Star.
  20. ^
  21. ^ [5] Archived September 28, 2007 at the Wayback Machine


  • Nusseibeh, Sari (24 September 2001). "What next?". Haaretz. Retrieved 23 September 2011. 
  • John Wallach and Janet Wallach, The New Palestinians: The Emerging Generation Of Leaders(Prima publishing, 1992) ISBN 1-55958-215-4
  • Sylvia Murphy, Candy's Children (Novel) partially set in a remembered Palestine. (S.A.Greenland Imprint, 2007) ISBN 978-0-9550512-1-0

Published writings[edit]


  • No Trumpets, No Drums: A Two-State Solution of the Israeli- Palestinian Conflict, New York: Hill & Wang, 1991
  • Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life, written with Anthony David; New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, London: Halban Publishers, 2007 ISBN 978-1-905559-05-3
  • Palestine: A State is Born (Selections of Newspapers/Magazines articles between 1987-1990 ) Palestine Information Office :The Hague, 1990.
  • What Is a Palestinian State Worth?. Harvard University Press. 2011. p. 234. ISBN 978-0-674-04873-7. 

Other works[edit]

  • A Formula for Narrative Selection: A Commentary on Writing the Arab- Israeli Conflict, Perspectives on Politics, Vol 3/No1 (March,2005)
  • The Limit Of Reason (or Why Dignity is not Negotiable), APA Newsleters, (Vo.04, Number1), 2004.
  • Singularidad y pluralidad en la identidad: el caso del prisionero palestino, La Pluralidad y sus atributos (Fundacion Duques de Soria) 2002.
  • Personal and National Identity: A Tale of Two Wills. Philosophical Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, ed. Tomas Kapitan, (Armonk, N.Y., and London: Sharpe, N.E.) 1997.
  • Epistemology, The Routledge History of Islamic Philosophy, ed. Oliver Leaman.( London: Routledge, Kegan and Paul), 1995.
  • Al-Hurriyyah Bayn Alhadd Wa’l Mutlaq (Absolute and Restricted Freedom). London: Al-Saqi, 1995.
  • Al-Hizb al-Siyasi Wa’l dimoqratiyyah (Political Parties and Democracy). In Azmat al-hizb al-Siyasi al-Falastini.( Ramallah: Muwatin) 1996
  • Can Wars be Just? in But Was It Just? Reflections on the Morality of the Gulf War, with Jean Elshtaine, et al. (New York: Doubleday) 1992.
  • Review of F. Zimmermann’s Al-Farabi’s Commentary and Short Treatise on Aristotle’s De Interpretatione, History and Philosophy of Logic, 13 (1992), 115-132.
  • Al-Aql Al Qudsi: Avicenna’s Subjective Theory of Knowledge. Studia Islamica (1989), 39-54.
  • Selections (including translations) from the Holy Qur'an. In Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 15th ed., 1984.
  • Review of Islamic Life and Thought, by S. A. Nasr.( TLS) March 1982:267.
  • Masharif al-Mantiq (Introductory Symbolic Logic). (Jerusalem: Arab Studies Society) 1982.
  • On Subatomic Particles and Scientific Posits, with Basheer El-Issa. (Birzeit Journal of Chemistry) 1981.
  • Avicenna : Medicine and Scepticism. Koroth Vol.8, No 1- 2 (1981): 9-20.
  • Quelques figures et themes de la Philosophie Islamique. Review in Asian and African Studies 14 (1980), 207-209.
  • Herbert Marcuse wa’l metamarxiyyah.” Al-Jadid, July 1

External links[edit]