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Latest update : 2013-05-10

Middle East: Munib al-Masri, the godfather of Nablus

In the West Bank, everyone calls him "The Godfather". Munib al-Masri, 80, is not only the richest Palestinian in the Palestinian Territories; he is also one of the most influential. In his final years, he is obsessed by two goals: reconciling the Palestinians, and making peace with Israel. Our reporters met him and followed him on the road in the Middle East.

Munib al-Masri’s day begins early. He sleeps little and does not like sitting around. After getting up and having a full oriental breakfast, he generally sets off around 7 am.

With the phone glued to his ear, this Palestinian billionaire who made his fortune in oil  travels the roads of the Middle East at a frenetic pace. He gets into a car with Palestinian licence plates to cross the Territories, then suddenly changes vehicle at the edge of the road. Munib then climbs aboard a 4x4 with Israeli plates, allowing him to reach the other side of the wall of separation. The Israeli authorities grant him these few privileges, such as VIP status, he tells us.

This Middle Eastern Don Quixote is trying to find new partners for his initiative to restart the peace process. Munib knows how to use the charm and authority his age give him. He approaches people without hesitation, wherever they are. He uses this audacity and skill with Hamas members in Gaza, just as he does with Israeli settlers near Nablus, his native city. Munib al-Masri talks to everyone, but his influence remains difficult to measure as long as the stalemate on the ground continues.

The philanthropist, who was close to late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, is attached to the idea that things can change very quickly towards chaos or peace. He believes that a moment of courage from current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be sufficient. Munib likes to tell a story that Israeli President Shimon Peres recounted to him: that Ariel Sharon took just a few minutes to make the decision to dismantle all the settlements in Gaza.

Today, even if the peace process seems as stalled as ever, this tireless activist refuses to give up on his dreams.

By Gallagher FENWICK , Marc PERELMAN

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