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September 12, 2003 - Image 28

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-09-12

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Personal History

Karia was born to a wealthy merchant family in the
Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Dis in 1937. He is
married with 5 children.
In the wake of the Israeli occupation of the West
Bank in 1967, he left Abu Dis for the Persian Gulf,
moving to Beirut, Cyprus and Tunis. He now lives in
Abu Dis.
A banker by trade, Karia joined Arafat's Fatah wing
the new reality. "Israelis coming here, Palestinians
of the PLO in 1968 and came to prominence in the
going there. But it happened."
mid-1970s, when he took over the Palestinian Samed
He also has a rare understanding of Israeli con-
bank in Lebanon.
By 1980, the PLO's business enterprises Karia head-
In 2002, Karia told Palestinian TV that Palestinian
ed generated an income of about $40 million a year,
mistakes were among the reasons that many Israelis
and, with 6,500 full-time employees, ranked as one of
no longer supported peace and the reason why the
the largest employers in Lebanon. The organizations
right had come to power in Israel, according to the
Karia headed also funded economic and social activities
Jerusalem Post.
in the West Bank.
The peace movement "has begun to dwindle in
In 1983, when the Israeli army forced the PLO out
Israel apparently due to some of the methods that we
of Lebanon, Karia left with Arafat and the rest of
use," he was quoted as saying. "We are not talking
leadership for Tunis. There, he was elected to the Fatah
about legitimate resistance here. But I do say that
Central Committee in 1989 and worked closely with
some of the actions that harm us need to stop."
Abbas, who was then in charge of
Karia's sartorial flair — he
unofficial contacts with Israel.
favors stylish rimless glasses
In 1993, Karia headed the
and tailored suits — also
Palestinian delegation to the secret
helps sell his people's case in
talks in Norway that led to the Oslo
the West.
Accords, signed on the White House
Karia became close to a
lawn on Sept. 13, exactly 10 years
number of his Israeli inter-

locutors: Uri Savir, his coun-
Around the same time, Karia was
terpart in the secret talks
instrumental in drafting a Palestinian
before Oslo, and Maj. Gen.
development plan, which was pre-
Uzi Dayan, a scion of one of
sented to a World Bank conference
Israel s founding families
on aid in 1993. The draft became a
who conducted security talks
central document in the PLO devel-
with Karia in 1995.
opment strategy for the Palestinian
Savir describes Karia as a
Palestinian Authority President Yasser
warm, outgoing man of great
Arafat talks to Parliament speaker
Later, Karia helped design the
personal charm with an impish Ahmed Karia, who was named prime
Palestinian Economic Council for
sense of humor. But he adds
minister Sept. 7.
Development and Reconstruction, an
that Karia was a tough and tal-
organization that channels interna-
ented negotiator, totally dedi-
tional capital for Palestinian projects.
cated to the Palestinian cause and historical narrative.
In January 1996, when Palestinians voted for their
He has a clear-eyed view of what each side wants.
first parliament, Karia was elected speaker of the 88-
In October 1999, when then-Israeli Prime
member Palestinian Legislative Council, a position he
Minister Ehud Barak launched the process that
has held ever since.
would lead to the final-status Camp David talks in
At Camp David in 2000, Karia took umbrage after
2000, Karia correctly predicted that the new initia-
upbraided by President Clinton for speaking as if
tive would founder over the issue of Palestinian
he were "addressing the U.N.," and he took little fur-
ther part in the talks. Karia says he was merely rejecting
That hard-nosed approach has its advantages, said
an inadequate Israel territorial offer.
Stephen P. Cohen, a Middle East scholar who met
Karia lacks a firm political base, but unlike Abbas, he
with Karia after his appointment was announced.
stood for the legislative council and was elected in his
The man known as Abu Ala is a "closer," Cohen
home district of Abu Dis. Like Abbas, he is a pragma-
said, and can bring talks to a resolution.
tist, presumed ready for a deal with Israel, although he
"He's not one of those negotiators who talks end-
avoided Abbas' overt criticism of the "militarization" of
lessly; he knows how to close the deal," Cohen said.
"That's what his specialty is, getting to close the deal." the intifada (uprising), an implicit jab at Arafat s han-
dling of it.
But not everyone is optimistic.
U.S. Secretary of State Corm Powell suggested that
As long as Arafat is around, there is no progress;
the personality of any Palestinian Authority prime min-
there are constant obstructions," said Gal Luft, an
ister was less important than the powers he accrued
Israeli analyst.
and how he administered them.
"No Palestinian government can move on the road
"We hope that however it turns out, whoever the
map; it doesn t matter which Abu' you put in
prime minister is — and I would suspect it is going to
charge. As long as Arafat is there it's hopeless," said
be Abu Ala — that he will make a commitment to
Luft, who heads the U.S.-based Institute for the
fight terrorism," Powell said. ❑
Analysis of Global Security.

The new Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Karia, is a
pragmatist with ties to Arafat and the Israelis.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

timed Karia, the Palestinian prime minis-
ter-designate, was at Yasser Arafat s side
when they left Beirut in ignominy in
1983, and again when they arrived in
Gaza in triumph in 1994. And he's not likely to leave
the side of the man he calls "brother" in his new job.
Karia, 65, says his success in his new job depends
on an end to the isolation of Arafat. His failed prede-
cessor, Mahmoud Abbas, was never as close to Arafat
and was more willing to confront Arafat s insistence
on control of the process.
Karia, who accepted the position Sept. 10 pending
confirmation by the Palestinian Parliament, also
called on Israel to halt its killings of Palestinian ter-
rorists and freeze settlements in the West Bank.
President Bush said Karia needs to wrest control of
the security services away from Arafat, with whom
the United States refuses to deal.
"His job, if he's interested in a two-state solution,
is to consolidate power and to unleash those security
forces against killers," Bush said while meeting with
Prime Minister Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah of
Bush said Israel also needed to create the condi-
tions for Karia to succeed, an apparent reference to
U.S. expectations that Israel lift economic restrictions
on the Palestinians.
Ghassan Khatib, the Palestinian Labor minister,
said Karia is keen not to repeat Abbas failure.
"If Karia is not assured of any progress for the
peace process, he will not get any achievements for
his people, which means a failure," he said. "So he
wants to throw the ball in the right court," to the
Israelis and the Americans.
Israel is less than likely to deliver a friendly recep-
tion on those terms: Israeli Defense Minister Shaul
Mofaz said Israel would not cooperate with a prime
minister who followed Arafat s orders. Israel believes
the Palestinian failure to contain terrorists is a ploy
by Arafat to use violence as negotiating leverage.
Still, some Israelis find Karia an affable, dapper
moderate who has acknowledged Palestinian mistakes
in the collapse of the peace process — and still more
palatable than Arafat as a partner.
Unlike many of his compatriots, who saw accom-
modation with Israelis after the landmark 1993 Oslo
agreement as a necessary evil, Karia spoke of the new
era with the same pleased wonder as his Israeli coun-
In 1999, he ventured into the Israeli Knesset for a
meeting with his then-counterpart in the Parliament
speaker job, Avraham Burg. The two posed beneath a
portrait of Zionist icon Theodor Herzl and bantered.
"It was difficult for me to imagine," Karia said the
same year, speaking to a reporter in Ramallah about





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