Hans Wilhelm Longva has been called Norway’s most important diplomat in the Middle East, and certainly among its most fearless. Colleagues and journalists alike were mourning his death to cancer over the weekend. He was 71.
“It is with great sorrow that we have received the news of Hans Wilhelm Longva’s death,” Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide told news bureau NTB. “He was an extremely capable and important diplomat, in many ways he was born to be a diplomat.” Eide called him “a fantastic, wonderful person” who had “an enormous ability to find solutions through his insight and knowledge.”
Newspaper Aftenposten’s political editor, Harald Stanghelle, likened Longva to a bundle of “diplomatic fireworks.” Instead of staying safely behind embassy walls to write reports home, Longva actively sought out the people and explored the areas where he was posted. That resulted in him narrowly avoiding being kidnapped by an armed militia in Beirut in 1978, although he was arrested by Saddam Hussein’s occupation soldiers in Kuwait in 1990.
Longva was Norway’s ambassador in Kuwait from 1984 to 1991, and later ambassador to Turkey (2001-2006), Azerbaijan (2006) and in both Damascus and Beirut from 2006 to 2008. He had joined the foreign ministry in 1966, and also served at Norway’s embassy in Cairo while becoming an expert on the Middle East.
“He knew the Middle East culture better than any other Norwegian diplomat,” wrote Stanghelle, “both the political culture, the people, the culinary and musical culture.”
Longva is perhaps best remembered for his work that led to the so-called “Oslo channel” in 1992. He was a force in getting Norwegian politicians to recognize the plight of the Palestinians, and breaking the political ice between Norway and the PLO. He had lengthy and good connections to former PLO President Yasser Arafat and had what Eide called “a broad network of contacts” in the Middle East that helped lead to Norwegians being so heavily involved in bringing together Israel and the Palestinians on the White House Lawn.
“He played a key role, something perhaps not everyone was aware of because others were more visible,” Eide said. “His knowledge and contacts were very important.”
His funeral was set for noon on Friday October 18 at Vestre Aker Church in Oslo.