- Palestinian Prime Minister
- “The fire will burn, the terror will grow.”
Ahmad Qurei (also known as Abu Alla) was born into a wealthy Palestinian family in Abu Dis, a suburb of Jerusalem, on March 26, 1937. He became a banker when he reached adulthood, but in 1968 he gave up that career to join Fatah, a terrorist group founded by Yasser Arafat and dedicated to the annihilation of Israel. Using the economic expertise he had gained as a banker, Qurei emerged as the mastermind of Palestinian economic activities in Lebanon. He became the leader of Samed, the PLO’s industrial and investment fund, and in 1983 he was appointed head of the Economic Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee.
In 1989 Qurei became a member of the Fatah Central Committee. Four years later he was named head of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR), which was established to solicit money from foreign governments to support Palestinian projects that were ostensibly of a humanitarian nature. In 1993 as well, Qurei supervised the preparation of the “Programme for Development of the Palestinian National Economy” (1994-2000). From 1994-96 he served as the Palestininan Authority‘s Minister of Economy and Trade, and also as its Minister of Industry. In January 1996 Qurei was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), where he served several years as speaker.
Qurei was a key player in a number of major peace initiatives between the Palestinians and Israel. Most notably, he was involved in negotiations at: (a) the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991; (b) the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993; (c) the Paris Agreement of April 1994; (d) the Oslo Interim Agreement of September 1995; (e) the Camp David peace talks of July 2000; and (f) the Taba peace talks of January 2001.
Qurei has long maintained not only that “the principle of the [Palestinian] right of return is sacred,” but also that Palestinian refugees were entitled to receive compensation for the suffering that Israel had allegedly inflicted upon them and their ancestors. He said in 1996: “The right of return does not cancel the right to compensation, and the right to compensation does not cancel the right of return, and does not constitute a substitute for it, since this is compensation to the Palestinian refugees for the expulsion from their homeland, the destruction of their political, social, and economic framework, the halt to the course of their lives, and the exploitation of their lands and homes, over the last five decades.”
In 1997 Qurei explicitly declared that Palestinian sovereignty over the city of Jerusalem was a non-negotiable demand: “Jerusalem is the most important cause for the Palestinian leadership, and there can be no peace without Jerusalem, whose return [to the Palestinians] was explicitly mentioned in the international resolutions…. The Israeli government and its officials must know that the Palestinian state, in the eyes of all the Palestinians in the West Bank, the [Gaza] Strip, and the diaspora – is Jerusalem. The state means Jerusalem, and a state of which Jerusalem is not the capital will not be a state.”
In October 2000, Qurei characterized Palestinian terrorism as the “resistance of our people.” In 2003 he made it clear that he viewed both politics and violence as legitimate means of promoting justice for his people: “Blood is not the only means of accomplishing our goals. There is also the political, cultural, and social struggle, and these are also elements of the struggle for our cause.” In December 2003, Queri warned Israel that “the fire will burn, the terror will grow” if an acceptable settlement was not reached regarding the contested land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In June 2003, Qurei took exception to U.S. President George W. Bush’s recent reference to Israel as a “Jewish state.” Said Qurei: “The words of President Bush, that Israel is a Jewish state, aroused great concern among us. These words should not have been said…. What is the meaning [of Bush’s words] ‘Jewish state?’ Do we say: ‘This is a Jewish state, this is a Sunni state, this is a Shi’ite state, or Alawi, and this other [state] is Christian?’ These are definitions that will bring the region into turmoil.”
When Mahmoud Abbas retired as Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority in August 2003, Yasser Arafat appointed Qurei to fill that post. On October 5, 2003, Arafat nominated Qurei to head a new, eight-member emergency cabinet.
On July 17, 2004, Qurei — resentful of Arafat’s virtually unchecked power over the Palestinian Authority and its security forces — announced that he intended to resign from the post of Prime Minister unless Arafat were to yield more power to the Cabinet. Arafat did not bow to Qurei’s ultimatum, but in October 2004 he became ill, thereby opening the door for Qurei and Arafat’s replacement, Mahmoud Abbas, to jointly take control of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO. In January 2005, Abbas reappointed Qurei as Prime Minister. But Qurei held that position only until early 2006, when Hamas surged to victory in the Palestinian elections.
As of 2015, Qurei was still active in Palestinian politics, serving as head of the PLO Department for Jerusalem Affairs and the PLO Executive Committee.
Further Reading: “Ahmed Qurei” (Jewish Virtual Library, MideastWeb.org, MideastWeb.org/bio, JustVision.org); “Ahmad Qurei: A Brief Political Profile of the Nominated Palestinian Prime Minister” (MEMRI, 9-18-2003, re: quotes of 1996-2003).