Zehdi Terzi

First PLO representative to the UN


Zehdi Labib Terzi, diplomat: born Jerusalem 20 February 1924; PLO Permanent Observer to the UN 1974-91; married 1960 Widad Awad (died 1987; one son, one daughter); died Amman 1 March 2006.

The many journalists and diplomats who consulted with him over the years remember Zehdi Terzi fondly. It would be difficult to demonise as a fundamentalist terrorist someone whom the Patriarch of Jerusalem had dubbed a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre, or whom his daughter Karimah remembers as a feminist who admonished her, "BSc, MSc, PhD - and only then Mrs." None the less, for 16 straight years, he was America's most unwanted if you judged him by the New York tabloids and the Congressional Register.

Terzi was an almost archetypal Palestinian figure. Born in an ancient Greek Orthodox family in Jerusalem under the British Mandate, he had hoped to end his days in the city, but, 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 back 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.

Under the British Mandate he 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, 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, within months of the foundation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in 1964 Terzi became its 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 recognised 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 UN in 1975, he was soon reminded that the US had vigorously opposed the resolution. For the US and Israel, the PLO was a terrorist organisation. Although the mission was covered by the UN Headquarters agreement, grandstanding American politicians kept trying to close it down.

The pressure was continuous throughout his time at the UN. In 1986, for example, the State Department refused him permission to travel to Harvard Law School to debate with Professor Alan Dershowitz, provoking a lawsuit that went all the way to the US Court of Appeals. Perhaps the strangest of the court battles that put Terzi in the headlines was in 1982, when a New York judge overturned the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Fred Sparks's bequest of $30,000 to the PLO. That Sparks was himself Jewish added an extra piquancy to the case.

However the most notorious collateral damage of these cases was a former Congressman who had, in his own words, "a 100 per cent voting record in support of Israel". Andrew Young, the former civil rights leader, Congressman and then US Ambassador to the UN, met Terzi "accidentally on purpose" at a lunch at the Kuwaiti Ambassador's residence in 1979. Young claims that the State Department and the Israeli foreign ministry both knew in advance about the meeting, but, once it was leaked, President Jimmy Carter fired him. The New York Daily Post headline had been "Jews Demand Firing Young", and the incident did much to damage relations between the black and Jewish communities.

Towards the end of Terzi's UN career, as the intifada raged on, he helped formulate the strategy that may annoy Israel even more: the use of UN resolutions and international law to establish Palestinian rights. It was a strategy he encouraged when he left New York in the hands of his deputy, Nasser el-Kidwa, currently Palestinian Foreign Minister, to become special adviser on international and UN affairs to Arafat in Tunis, where he was to spend the remainder of his days, until going to Jordan for (unsuccessful) medical treatment.

Travel to New York is only marginally less difficult for dead than living Palestinian diplomats. Terzi's children are struggling to get clearance to take his remains to the plot in New Jersey where he can join his wife.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick