'Outsider' returns to take the pulse of a people: Afif Safieh, left, found cause for 'immense joy and immense sadness' in his old homeland, writes Sarah Helm from Jerusalem

IN the elegant East Jerusalem salon it was not hard to tell the exile apart from the rest. He was the one in the smart suit, talking eloquently in several languages of 'political pluralism' and 'conflict resolution' while local well-wishers passed through offering simple expressions of welcome.

Afif Safieh, the Palestine Liberation Organisation representative in London, and a Catholic, barred from his homeland for 27 years, has been given permission by Israel to come back to his home in occupied East Jerusalem to celebrate his daughter's first communion at the Latin (Roman Catholic) Patriarchate, and to 'take the pulse of the people'.

His arrival in Jerusalem, however, is more than just a homecoming. It is a significant sign that positive developments are taking place on the uncertain road towards peace, despite the new gloom which surrounds the negotiations to implement withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho. Mr Safieh's visit to Jerusalem would have been unthinkable a year ago, but has been made possible by Israel's new recognition of the PLO, and the acknowledgement by Israel that experienced men such as this will be needed to help set up the new Palestinian authority.

Mr Safieh would like his next return home to be permanent. The Safieh homecoming may yet be noted as the moment when the 'outside' started to come 'inside' - when the Palestinian diaspora, most banished from their homes since their lands were occupied in 1967, began to return.

The return of the 'outsiders' is awaited with some uncertainty by Palestinians living in the occupied territories, who wonder how the 'merger' will work as the new Palestinian authority is established. The diaspora Palestinians may have lost touch with their roots, some say. But Mr Safieh rejects such fears, and attacks what he calls 'media stereotypes'.

'You see how well we get on,' he says, accepting a welcoming hug from Faisal Husseini, the PLO leader in Jerusalem. Mr Safieh says his own experience contradicts such stereotypes. Half his family are in the diaspora and half live in Jerusalem. And he points out that he has only become an 'international nomad' because of Israel. His family has lived in Jerusalem for generations.

'There will be a harmonious osmosis of inside and out,' he says. Furthermore, once the outside leadership returns, Palestinian life in the occupied territories will be revitalised. He predicts that Yasser Arafat, the PLO Chairman, will be back 'within hours' of signing the agreement for withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho. 'Then it will be a beehive of activity here. There is so much talent here. It will be triggered into action by his arrival,' he says.

Afif Safieh's story of exile is typical of thousands of Palestinians. His family lost their house in West Jerusalem when Israel seized the west half of the city in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. They moved over to the east side of the city, then under Jordanian control. Then in 1967, when Israel seized and annexed East Jerusalem, 17-year-old Afif was studying in Brussels. Like other Palestinians outside the territories in 1967 he was refused the right to return. As he became active in PLO politics in subsequent years he lost all hope of coming back.

Always an advocate of a negotiated solution to the conflict, Mr Safieh says his return to Jerusalem has brought 'immense joy and immense sadness'. At the communion on Sunday hundreds of leading Palestinians and some Israelis came to celebrate in an atmosphere of joyful reunion rarely seen in the occupied territories.

The sadness has come from listening to the growing doubts about whether the peace agreement can be implemented. Mr Safieh says the overwhelming majority he has talked to want the agreement to work. 'But nobody has seen a single example of improvement since the signing. They are sceptical about whether the breakthrough can be achieved to bring their salvation from captivity and bondage.'

Mr Safieh denies that he is in Jerusalem on a reconnaissance mission for Mr Arafat, although he says he will report back on his findings. One of his messages will be that speed is of the essence if the agreement is not to fall apart.

(Photograph omitted)

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Life and Style
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer - web services, XML and API

£330 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Lond...

Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Maths Teacher required to teach Furthe...

Primary teachers required for schools in Norwich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers requ...

Trainee Helpdesk Analyst / 1st Line Application Support Analyst

£18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style