- Longtime affiliate of the PLO, the Palestinian Authority, Fatah, and Yasser Arafat
Born in 1938 in Safed, British Mandate of Palestine, Nabil Shaath earned a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Economics. In 1965 he moved to Cairo, Egypt. Four years later, he took a teaching job at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon. Shaath also worked as an industry consultant and management trainer in Algeria, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon. He joined the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1970 and headed its Planning Center from 1971-81. In 1974 he accompanied Yasser Arafat in the first PLO delegation to the United Nations. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Shaath was often said to be “the real power behind (Arafat’s) throne.”
In 1991 Shaath served as a member of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Conference — a peace initiative co-sponsored by the United States and the Soviet Union in an effort to revive the Mideast peace process.
In 1993 Shaath was the chief PLO negotiator for Oslo Accords.
At a closed meeting in January 1996, Shaath discussed the Palestinians’ incremental approach to destroying Israel: “We decided to begin liberating our homeland step by step. This is the strategy…. And so we honor the peace treaties and non-violence, so long as the agreements are fulfilled step by step. [But] if and when Israel says ‘enough,’ namely — ‘we won’t discuss Jerusalem, we won’t return refugees, we won’t dismantle settlements, we won’t withdraw to the borders’ — in that case it is saying that we will return to violence. But this time, it will be [against] 30,000 armed Palestinian soldiers and in a land with elements of freedom. I’m the first one to call for it. If we get to a deadlock we shall return to the fighting and struggle, as we have fought for 40 years or more.”
In 1997 the Palestinian Legislative Assembly charged that Shaath, a wealthy man who owned numerous business enterprises in the Arab world, was guilty of corruption and demanded that he be imprisoned. In August 1998 a commission found evidence of criminal corruption by Shaath, but he remained in power and subsequently took a post in the newly formed Palestinian Authority (PA). Over the years, Shaath has held numerous positions with the PA, including: chief negotiator, foreign minister, cabinet minister, international co-operation minister, planning minister, minister of information, and acting prime minister.
In the aftermath of a highly incendiary sermon delivered in May 2005 by the Gaza-based Muslim cleric Ibrahim Mudayris, Shaath, in his role as the Palestinian Authority’s minister of information, promised to “suspend Mudayris and prevent him from delivering further sermons.” But this development was largely a pragmatic move designed to influence world opinion in light of an upcoming scheduled visit to Washington, D.C. by PA President Abu Mazen (a.k.a. Mahmoud Abbas), rather than a sign of any softening in the Palestinian position vis-à-vis Israel. As one press report stated: “A senior PA official expressed fear that the publication of the contents of the sermon would reflect negatively on Mazen’s upcoming talks with the U.S. president. ‘This is the last thing we need now,’ he remarked. ‘This preacher has done grave damage to our cause.’”
In June 2010, the Jordainian daily newspaper Al-Dustour reported that Shaath, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, had acknowledged that the Palestinians’ decision to renew peace negotiations with Israel was a “tactical” and “temporary” move which had been made in order to maximize “the possibility of attaining tangible results for the Palestinians.”
In September 2010, Shaath pledged that “the Palestinian Authority will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state,” on grounds that such recognition “would directly threaten the Muslims and Christians in Israel and prevent Palestinian refugees, who left their homes and villages a number of decades ago, from being granted the right to return to them.”
In a July 13, 2011 interview with ANB TV in Lebanon, Shaath, a strong supporter of the Palestinian “right of return,” declared: “At the end of the day, we want to exert pressure on Israel in order to force it to recognize us and leave our country. This is our long-term goal.” Moreover, he flatly rejected the prospect of any arrangement whereby Israel and Palestine might coexist side-by-side as “two states for two peoples.” “They can describe Israel itself as a state for two peoples,” Shaath said, “but we will be a state for one people. The story of two states for two peoples means that there will be a Jewish people over there and a Palestinian people here. We will never accept this.”
But while Shaath undeniably favored a one-state solution (without Israel), he tailored a very different message for English-speaking audiences, as evidenced when he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on September 21, 2011, that he wanted the Israeli “occupation” to end so that the Palestinians could thenceforth “be in peace with Israel, as neighbors, two states side by side.”
During an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation five days later, Shaath disingenuously asserted that the Palestinian Authority was willing to recognize Israel’s right to exist. When a questioner noted that the PA, at that very moment, was attempting to reconcile with Hamas, whose charter called unequivocally for Israel’s destruction, Shaath replied: “Well, I don’t know about Hamas and I don’t know about charters … we are not particularly interested in charters, we are interested in what people do on the ground.” In a more candid moment during the interview, Shaath characterized the very existence of Israel as an illegal “occupation.”
In early 2012 Shaath said that Hamas was “moderating its positions” due to the weakening of the Syrian government that had long supported the terrorist organization. He went so far as to label Khaled Mash’al, the Hamas military-wing leader whom the United States had labeled a “specially designated global terrorist,” as the “dove in Hamas.”
In September 2015, the PA’s official daily newspaper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, reported that Shaath had “called on the Palestinian and Arab masses to carry out riots of rage.”
On February 4, 2016, Shaath — who was still a Fatah Central Committee member and the Fatah Commissioner of International Relations — publicly lauded the memory of the late George Habash, founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Shaath described Habash as “a unique national leader” as well as “a courageous and smart fighter” who had played “an important role in guarding the PLO” while advancing “the struggle against the Israeli enemy and the settlement occupation.”
In March 2016, Shaath stated: “Today, the international community’s wish to establish peace must be accompanied by aid to the Palestinian people and encouragement of the boycott of the occupation’s products, so that the resistance will be peaceful, and [constitute] an alternative to armed conflict.”
In February 2017, Shaath was appointed as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs and International Relations.
In an August 2017 interview, Shaath emphatically voiced his belief that in 2004 “the Israelis killed [Yasser Arafat] with poison. I have no doubt of that, not even a millionth of a doubt!” (sic)
In a May 2018 interview with National Public Radio, Shaath — incensed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to relocate the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — said: “Mr. Trump is a catastrophe to Palestinians and Israelis. Now he is today pro-Israel. He’s very much siding with Israelis, and moving his embassy to Jerusalem was nothing than a demonstration of his alliance with Israelis.”
Further Reading: “Voices of Palestine: Nabil Shaath” (by Arnold Ahlert, FrontPage Magazine, 11-12-2012).