Afif Safieh

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Afif Safieh was the Palestinian Authority ambassador to Moscow until March 2009, when his call for reconciliation with Hamas lost him his job in the Russian capital. Previously, he was ambassador in Washington, 2005-2008. Before that, he was (1990-2005) Palestinian General-Delegate to the UK and the Holy See. Apparently, he was nominated in June 2009 as Palestinian Roving Ambassador for Special Missions, based in London.

Safieh was born in Jerusalem on 4 May 1950. He studied in Jerusalem at the College Des Freres. Having finished high school in 1966, he left for Belgium to attend the University of Louvain. Like other Palerstinians who were absent from the West Bank when it was captured by the Israelis in 1967, he was not allowed to return home. Safieh says that the 1967 war made him a "wandering Palestinian" and that he still is.

He was President of the Palestinian Students Union in Belgium '69-'71 and in France '74-'75. He was deputy director of the PLO Observer Mission to the United Nations in Geneva '76-'78. He has been the Palestinian General Delegate to the United Kingdom since September 1990. His articles and essays have been published in two books - Self Determination and One People Too Many? His recent essays include "Children of a Lesser God?" and "Peace Process: from breakthrough to breakdown?"

Akiva Eldar reports (22 July 2002):

Afif Safieh is considered the most articulate Palestinian diplomat in Europe, and possibly the world. The most experienced speakers the foreign ministry can muster have been sent to face off against him in international conferences and on BBC talk shows, and they have run into difficulty opposite the Jerusalem-born Palestinian with the rich vocabulary and smooth delivery.

Akiva Eldar reports (4 September 2007): [1]

If they were to name someone "the Abba Eban of Palestinian diplomacy," it is doubtful Safieh, 56, would have any competition. The Israeli Foreign Ministry would welcome staff to explain things with a sense of humor like his and his fluent English and French. For most of his life, ever since he left his native Jerusalem and went to study in Belgium, he has worked on the PLO’s foreign relations. At the age of 19, Safieh was the president of the Belgian branch of the Palestinian students' organization. Five years later, when he completed his undergraduate degree in political science in Paris, he headed the French branch of the organization.

Safieh, the scion of a Catholic Jerusalem family that wandered from the Baka neighborhood in the western part of the city to Sheikh Jarrah in its eastern part, moved on to work for the PLO representation adjacent to the UN institutions in Geneva. He spent three years (1978-1981) in Yasser Arafat’s office in Beirut as the head of European and UN affairs.

In 1988, while he was the PLO representative in the Netherlands, Safieh was involved in talks mediated by the then Swedish foreign minister, Sten Andersen, which led to the opening of the direct dialogue between the U.S. and the PLO.

In 1992, two years after being appointed the PLO representative in London, Safieh introduced Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala) to an Israeli pair of doctors, Yair Hirshfeld and Ron Pundak. This was the first (and not the last) direct meeting of the senior Palestinian leadership with Israelis. The continuation, as may be recalled, came in Oslo.

After the signing of the historic agreement, Safieh submitted a request to the Interior Ministry to return to the bosom of his family in Jerusalem, in the framework of family reunification; he wanted to publish a quality English language weekly and managed to enlist several prominent intellectuals, headed by Prof. Edward Said. Even though the reason why he was not included in the population census taken in 1967 was his studies abroad, Israel closed the doors to him.

Just under two years ago, after quite a few efforts, the Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and the previous foreign minister in his government, Nasser al-Kidwa, managed to persuade the PLO foreign minister, Farouk Kaddoumi to transfer the head of the Palestinian representation in Washington, Hassan Abd al-Rahman to the PLO offices in Morocco. After 15 years during which he became part of the diplomatic scene in London, Safieh and his Belgian wife left their two daughters, who are students, and crossed the ocean. Since then he has been treading in muddied waters. The Christian Arab (Safieh is also the PLO representative to the Vatican) has had to repel the wave of Islamophobia sweeping over Americans following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Not only does he have to deal with the Jewish lobby, whose influence over the centers of power in the American capital it is hard to exaggerate, he must also maneuver between the PLO-in-the-territories and the PLO abroad, between the Fatah-West Bank government and the Hamas-Gaza government.

Gideon Levy reports (28 December 2017): [2]

Safieh is a senior Palestinian diplomat. He has served as ambassador to Moscow, Washington, The Hague and London. He sat on Fatah’s Revolutionary Council and was very close to Yasser Arafat, who once sent him to deliver a letter to 25 African leaders. In that pre-email era, he presented the letter to nine of them and gave the rest to ambassadors. He is now a private individual, living in London with his Belgian wife. He visits Ramallah for meetings of the Revolutionary Council.

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