- Executive Committee member of the PLO
Zakaria al-Agha was born to a prominent family in Khan Younis (Gaza) in 1942. He studied medicine in Cairo, where he met and developed a close bond with Yasser Arafat. Agha joined Arafat’s Fatah organization in 1967, and he practiced internal medicine at Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis until the late 1980s.
On the political front, Agha helped organize protest activities during the first Palestinian Intifada. In 1988 he was arrested by the Israeli Defense Forces and was detained for six months.
In 1991 Agha participated in the Madrid peace conference, which sought to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process through negotiations that also involved Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.
Agha was a member of the Palestinian negotiating team between 1991-93, and served as the Palestinian Authority‘s minister of housing from 1994-95. His long-term positions included membership in Fatah’s Central Committee from 1992-2016, and in the PLO’s Executive Committee from 1996-2018. (Agha did not garner enough votes to retain his Fatah Central Committee seat in 2009, but he regained it by appointment.)
At a November 1997 Gaza rally led by Yasser Arafat in memory of “the martyred fighter” Salah al-Qidwa, Agha declared: “We still remember the martyrs and still follow their path.”
In December 1998, shortly after hundreds of Palestinians had destroyed a large amount of property in the Israeli settlement of Ariel, Agha stated: “There is no alternative at this stage to popular opposition to the settlements and the settlers. This is a burning issue which cannot be postponed. All forces and resources must be united in the struggle against the settlements.”
Agha was outraged when Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas said at the June 2003 Aqaba Summit meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: “The armed Intifada must end, and we must use and resort to peaceful means in our quest to end the occupation and the suffering of Palestinians and Israelis. And to establish the Palestinian state … Our goal is clear and we will implement it firmly and without compromise: a complete end to violence and terrorism.” “The Aqaba agreement is a sad agreement,” Agha reacted. “The [correct] message for Bush and Sharon is … that the Palestinians have a right to a country and a right of return to their villages and towns, which is an absolute and unalienable right.… That is a red line.… And as long as [the conflict] remains unresolved in accordance with international resolutions, there will be no peace in the land.… There will be no peace until all settlements and the entire occupation are removed, and until Jerusalem becomes the capital of Palestine.… The Palestinians have a right to a country with no occupation and no settlements. Anything else is a waste of time.”
In an interview which was aired on Palestine TV on May 11, 2016, Agha again addressed the topic of the Palestinians’ so-called “right of return”:
“[S]ome talk about the right to return or to get compensation, but that is not true. The resolution states that any Palestinian refugee, who left his home or was driven out of it, has the right to return. This is a basic right, which is indisputable. Any Palestinian who wants to return has the right to do so. In addition, he has the right to receive compensation for the damages caused to his property, or for the occupier’s use of his property. He also has the right to receive compensation for this property. So it is about return, as well as compensation….
“The resolution talks about return and compensation, and there is no alternative interpretation. With regard to the issue of where the refugees will return to — it is very clear that the refugees should return to the cities, villages and homes [in Israel] from which they were driven out. This is not about returning to the Palestinian state. Some people say that the Palestinian state should be the homeland of the refugees. No. There are refugees now within that state — in Gaza and in the West Bank. Yet we consider them to be refugees, living in the state of Palestine, and the Palestinian Authority, or the Palestinian state, is considered a state hosting these refugees. These refugees have the right to return to their cities, villages, and homes.”
Further Reading: “Zakaria al-Agha (WashingtonInstitute.org, ECFR.eu); “Fatah Preparing for ‘Intifada of the Settlements’” (IsraelBehindTheNews.com, 1-5-1999); “Palestinian Reactions to Abu Mazen’s Speech at the Aqaba Summit” (MEMRI.org, 6-25-2003); “Fatah Official Zakaria Al-Agha: Right of Return to Israel, Not to the Palestinian State” (MEMRI.org, 5-11-2016).
- “Aqaba Summit” (Encyclopedia.com).
- The “right of return” refers to the notion that the millions of descendants of those Arabs who fled Israel during its war for independence in 1948, are now entitled to return to their homes — thereby making Israel a majority-Arab state — and receive financial compensation as well.
- “United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194” (Jewish Virtual Library).