Born in 1938 in Safed (Galilea) in 1938, the son of a Palestinian father (from Gaza) and a Lebanese mother, Nabil Shaath emigrated with his family to Egypt at the creation of Israel. After his studies in Alexandria, he left Egypt in 1959 to obtain a degree at the University of Pennsylvania (U.S.A.). He returned to Cairo in 1965 and became an Egyptian citizen, then left for Beirut in 1969 to become lecturer in commercial management at the American University. Since 1975 Nabil Shaath has been heading a consultancy, engineering and management company, called TEAM, which employs hundreds of people in several Arab countries. He has been member of Fatah and close to Yasser Arafat for a long time.

Moderate and pragmatic, he soon developed ties with Jewish intellectuals. A subtle negotiator, he played an important role in establishing contacts for the PLO in the U.S.A. as well as in the Madrid peace talks – he was then responsible for the contacts between the PLO leadership in Tunis and the official Palestinian delegation led by Haïdar Abdel Shafi – and, to a lesser degree, in the secret talks which led to the Declaration of Principles (DOP) (Oslo Agreement). He wrote the Palestinian draft proposition for the DOP. Thereafter he headed the negotiations which resulted in the Gaza-Jericho Autonomy Agreement (Cairo Agreement or Oslo I) (see Oslo peace process). Many Palestinian jurists and politicians « from inside » strongly criticised his negotiating methods, blaming him for the existance of a very problematic text with regards to the respect of human rights and an exagerated understanding of the Israeli military’s grievances.

He later participated in negotiations with Israel, as the ones conducted in Camp David (2000) and Taba (2001) (see MEDEA Special File: What did reallyhappen in Camp Dabid?).

Member of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in 1994 as Minister of Planning and International Co-operation, he was elected to the Palestinian legislative elections of January 1996 on the Fatah list. A member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), he still remaining head of his Ministry, despite an internal audit (obtained under the pressure of the PLC and the European Union) strongly criticising the management of his ministry.

He was appointed Foreign Minister with the new cabinet of Abu Mazen (April 2003).