ABDELSHAFI, Haidar

Dr Haidar Abdelshafi, born in Gaza in 1919, is a widely-respected nationalist associated with the Palestinian left, the Communist Party in particular. Very popular, he got the highest number of votes in the Palestinian elections of January 1996. He was vice-president of the Palestinian National Council and interim president of the PLO from 1967 to 1968 (election of Yasser Arafat) but is no longer an official member. He is a moderate but has firm positions.

After studying medicine at the American University of Beirut and serving in the Jordanian army as a medical officer, he returned to Gaza in 1945. He was then very active on the boards of educational and health institutions. Since 1972, he has been chairman of the Palestinian Red Crescent in Gaza.

Speaker of the Palestinian parliament in Gaza (1962-65) when the territory was under Egyptian administration, he became an early prominent figure of the Palestinian cause as he was vice-chairman of the first Palestine National Council (PNC) which took place in East Jerusalem on 28 May 1964. Because of his political activities, the Israeli authorities banished him from Gaza to the Sinai for three months in 1967 and again for three months to Lebanon in 1970. He was also forbidden to travel abroad for many years.

He headed the official Palestinian delegation to the peace negotiations which started in Madrid in 1991 (see Conference for peace in the Middle East).

Critical of the Oslo Agreements – according to him making too many concessions to Israel – and of the undemocratic tendencies of the PLO-led Palestinian National Authority (PNA), he founded the National Democratic Coalition, a loyal opposition front. He is member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elected in January 1996 and is politically close to Hanan Ashrawi and the late Faisal Husseini.