Zehdi Terzi (1924-2006)

Article excerpt

The many journalists and diplomats who consulted over the years with the PLO's first representative to the United Nations remember Zehdi Terzi fondly. Indeed, it would be difficult to demonize as a fundamentalist terrorist someone whom the Patriarch of Jerusalem had dubbed a Knight of the Holy Sepulcher, or whom his daughter Karimah remembers as a feminist who admonished her, "BSc, MSc, PhD-and only then Mrs." Nonetheless, for 16 straight years, if you judged him by the New York tabloids and the Congressional Register, Ambassador Terzi was America's most unwanted.

An almost archetypal Palestinian figure, Terzi was born in an ancient Greek Orthodox family in Jerusalem under the British Mandate, on Feb. 20, 1924. He had hoped to end his days in the city, but, as he wistfully pointed out to a radio interviewer in 1988, "I can't go back home." Friendly, courteous and dignified, he was firm in his nationalist principles. When, after long and discreet negotiations, Israel finally offered to let him return to join his brothers and sisters in East Jerusalem, he could not bring himself to apply to those he considered illegal occupiers for a visa-so he died, as he had lived for three decades-in exile-on March 1, 2006 in Amman, where he was undergoing medical treatment.

Under the British Mandate Terzi had studied at Terra Sancta College and graduated from law school in 1948, the year of the partition of Jerusalem and Palestine. In Beirut in late 1959 he met Widad Awad, a Chilean descendant of an earlier generation of Arab refugees, in her case from the Ottomans. They married within months, on his birthday in 1960. She died in his arms, in New York, in 1987.

An early associate of Yasser Arafat, Terzi began his diplomatic career within months of the foundation of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964, becoming the PLO's emissary to Brazil. He was part of the delegation that in November 1974 accompanied Arafat to the United Nations in New York and secured recognition there, of sorts, for the PLO.

The General Assembly affirmed the Palestinians' right to self-determination and independence, and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and property, and recognized the PLO as their representative. The resolution gave the PLO almost all the attributes of statehood except a vote.

When Terzi arrived as the first Palestinian "permanent observer" to the U.N. in 1975, he soon was reminded that Washington had vigorously opposed the resolution. For the U.S. and Israel, the PLO was a terrorist organization. Although the mission was covered by the U.N. Headquarters agreement, grandstanding American politicians kept trying to close it down.

The pressure was continuous throughout Terzi's time at the UN. In 1986, for example, the State Department refused him permission to travel to Harvard Law School to debate with Prof. Alan Dershowitz, provoking a lawsuit that went all the way to the U. …