Back Home: An Autobiography Through a Historical Lens (1994-2001)

As part of the Palestine Memory series, the ACRPS has published Back Home: An Autobiography Through a Historical Lens (1994-2001) by Nabil Ali Shaath (591 pp.). The book is an autobiography of Shaath, a Palestinian politician, in which he recounts the stages of his political and diplomatic career beginning with his return to Palestine in May 1994, after the signing of the Gaza-Jericho Agreement in Cairo. He illustrates the emergence of the Palestinian National Authority, narrating the course of its work on the local and international level and the construction and development of its political and administrative institutions such as the Ministry of Planning, the diplomatic apparatus that sparked an international movement, and various industries and development projects. The book explores relations with Israel, including details from meetings, talks, and agreements in which the author took part, and provides Shaath’s evaluation of the peace process and its results.

Shaath attempts to combine personal accounts with a historical perspective to the extent possible in his memoirs, which required extending the project across three books. The first of which was My Life… From Nakba to Revolution: An Autobiography (2016), which covers the period from the beginning of the Zionist invasion of Palestine and the removal of its people in 1948, through the Arab Israeli wars, establishment of the PLO, the Jordanian and Lebanese phases, to the 1982 massacre in Beirut. The second book, titled From Beirut to Palestine: The Peace Process in the Middle East (2019), addresses challenges faced by the Palestinian revolution following the departure from Beirut such as the Reagan initiative, the Sabra and Shatila massacre, the Palestinian rift, then the leadership’s stabilisation in Tunis, work to regain Palestinian unity, the start of the First Intifada and its effects, the Palestinian peace project, and the announcement of the State of Palestine in 1988. The book also covers the negotiation phase, the pursuit of peace in the Middle East, the American negotiations, then the Oslo Accords and finally the Gaza-Jericho Agreement.

In Back Home, Shaath begins from the day he and those with him passed through the Rafah Border Crossing toward Gaza, where he proceeded with arrangements to implement the Oslo Accords. He describes that day with great passion and emotion: “The day I entered the homeland, 19 May 1994, was one of the most beautiful days of my life. It was one day after Israeli forces withdrew and redeployed in the Gaza Strip and Jericho. That day embodied the romanticism of coming home that remained in my heart and on my mind ever since we left Yafa for Egypt in 1947, and on which I raised my children. My sons Ali and Rami used to imagine that the oranges of Gaza and the big green pomelos of Jericho were the fruits of paradise, and my daughter Randa used to believe that the olives and olive oil that we got from the West Bank and Upper Galilee came from heaven, too.”

The book covers the infancy of the Palestinian National Authority in Gaza and Jericho, then the West Bank, the construction of its institutions and the Palestinian national economy, and the ongoing confrontation with the Israeli settler-colonial occupation. It explains how the Palestinian Authority and the national economy were established, their infrastructure and symbols, and how the Palestinian planning and diplomatic apparatuses were constructed. Further, it discusses mistakes, moments of failure, and correction attempts.

Back Home discusses the implementation of the peace process between President Yasser Arafat (Abu Ammar) and then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Gaza and Jericho, until the latter’s assassination by a Zionist extremist and the rise of Shimon Peres to power, then Benjamin Netanyahu. The book also passes through the return of the Israeli Labour Party to power under the leadership of Ehud Barak and the 2000 Camp David Summit, the failure of which led to the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada and beginning of a new phase of confrontation with the Zionist occupation of Palestine, while shedding light on strategic changes in the region and the world and their consequences for the Arab region.

Shaath also speaks about his conviction that the unipolar American-led world order is coming to an end, and that we will witness a multipolar world in the coming years which is necessarily more just and balanced than a world dominated by America. In the course of memory and the events it preserves, Shaath sketches the features of the personalities with whom he experienced these events. The most prominent of these is Yasser Arafat with whom Shaath spent the better part of his life, and with whom he returned home in 1994. He writes: “I loved him, I learned from him, I fought by his side. I disagreed with him sometimes, until I wept for his loss. Abu Ammar left his mark on my life to this day.”

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