Doctor tells of Mideast diplomatic coup

He helped link U.S. and Arafat
MOHAMMAD SAID Endorses peace via compromise

By J. MORRISSE for the Herald

When American diplomats and Palestine Liberation Organization officials were sounding one another out through unofficial, secret communications last December, a family practice physician from Washington was right in the middle of the dramatic flurry of events. Dr. Mohammed Said of Ephrata told an audience Sunday at the Bellingham Public Library how he shuttled messages between U.S. Middle East envoy Vernon Walters and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, which led to the startling reversal of U.S. policy toward the PLO. “There’s not a more noble cause that the search for peace,” Said told about 100 who attended the gathering, sponsored by the Whatcom County chapter of the United Nations Association. A Palestinian turned American citizen, Said was born in Haifa and raised on the West Bank. He earned a master’s degree in public health at the University of Toronto and a Ph.D. in preventive medicine at the University of Madrid. After his arrival in the United States in the early 1970s he practiced medicine at a Veterans Administration Hospital for six years before coming to Washington. He became a U.S. citizen in 1980. Said has long been active in the Palestinian cause, but he gained notice for his work with the presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988. Last June, he was successful in bringing Jewish and Palestinian interests in Washington state together to formulate a plank in the state Democratic platform that called for a guarantee of Israel’s security and a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Said’s dedication and respectability did not go unnoticed among his people in Palestine, including one physician friend, who is Arafat’s brother. Said was granted observer status and invited to address the Palestine National Council in Algiers last November. “I made a significant contribution there and I was very glad that they adopted the resolution that was very similar to what we drafted in Ellensburg (on the Democratic platform committee),” Said said.

The conference in Algiers grabbed the attention of the world and led to Arafat’s speech before the United Nations in Geneva after he was refused permission to address the general assembly in the United States. Said was part of the Palestinian delegation to Geneva and, when the United States snubbed Arafat’s initial overtures, he initiated contact with envoy Walters.

A series of messages were passed between the U.S. diplomat and PLO chairman through Said, which led to Arafat’s statement of the Palestinian position on Dec. 14, wording Secretary of State George Schultz wanted to hear. “I was very proud as a physician from Ephrata,” Said said of his contribution which received mentions in Time magazine and the Washington Post. He said he hoped an agreement on Palestinian nationhood could be achieved soon, before extremists on both sides thwart the efforts of those who are seeking a peaceful solution. At the present, Said is convinced that “extremists are contained,” but growing in strength on both sides. “The majority think things are going the right way,” according to Said. “The idea is to come to some common ground. The Palestinians cannot claim to have all of Palestine. The Israelis cannot realize their dream to have all of Palestine.” Said is optimistic that the new Bush administration and Chief of Staff John Sununu, who is of Lebanese descent, will play an important role in encouraging all parties in Israel and Palestine to work toward compromise. After his experience in international diplomacy, Said has come to the conclusion that there are “not just two superpowers” in the world. “There are also two little superpowers: Israel and Palestine,” he said.