Shikaki, Khalil (1953–)

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Shikaki, Khalil

Khalil Shikaki was born in Rafah, Gaza in 1953. Dr. Shikaki has held various academic and research positions, best known among them the position of director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in Ramallah. His center is a leading source of information on Palestinian social trends, public opinion on key issues in Palestinian politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.


Khalil Ibrahim Shikaki (also Shiqaqi) was born in September 1953 in Rafah, Gaza, into a Palestinian family of refugees who left the village of Zarnuqa as a result of the 1948 War. Zarnuqa is located in what is presently the outskirts of the Israeli city of Rehovot. The Shikakis had lived for generations in Zarnuqa, where they owned land and cultivated wheat, apricots, oranges, and cucumbers. Shikaki's grandfather was an imam (Islamic prayer leader) and his father, Ibrahim, used to call for prayer from the local mosque. In May 1948 the family fled the fighting and was never allowed to return by the Israeli government

Shikaki's family history and his childhood as a refugee in Gaza had a profound effect on him. In many ways, the story of the Shikaki family is emblematic of that of the Palestinian people. The traumatic events the family witnessed, intertwined with the more general Palestinian history and national struggle, had divergent effects on Shikaki and his siblings and influenced them to choose different paths in their lives. Shikaki is the second oldest of eight children. His siblings include a pharmacist, a businessman, and unskilled workers.

In 1971 Khalil began his studies at Birzeit University in the West Bank. In 1975 and 1977 he completed a BA and MA in international relations and Middle East studies from the American University of Beirut. Between 1977 and 1980 Shikaki worked for General Motors in Kuwait. He then went on to his Ph.D. studies at Columbia University, graduating in 1985. After teaching for one year at Columbia, he returned to the West Bank to teach at al-Najah University in Nablus.

During the first intifada, Khalil returned to the United States and from 1989 through 1990 taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In 1990 he became the director and research associate of a newly created think tank, World & Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE). In 1991, he became a professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

In March 1993 after returning to the West Bank, Shikaki established the Center for Palestine Research and Studies in Nablus. Between 1995 and 1999 Shikaki was editor of the center's Quarterly Journal of Palestine Policy, al-Siyasa al-Filastiniyya. Since 1993 he has conducted numerous public opinion polls and published many articles (some jointly with Israeli and other Palestinian scholars) about Palestinian politics and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Shikaki also served as a member of the Independent Palestinian Election Group formed to prepare for the January 1996 elections in the Palestinian Authority.

In 2002 Shikaki was a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C., and since then has been one of the institute's nonresident scholars. He contributes regularly to different forums in the Occupied Territories, the United States, and Israel.


Shikaki's work, publications, surveys, and polls have contributed greatly to understanding political and social trends within Palestinian society. While his academic training and analytical skills are instrumental, his personal life experiences as a refugee in Gaza have undoubtedly contributed to his insights into the Palestinian national struggle and other key political issues, such as the refugee issue and the right of return.


Name: Khalil Shikaki

Birth: 1953, Rafah, Gaza

Family: Wife, Wafa; two daughters, Muna and Leila; one son, Ibrahim

Nationality: Palestinian

Education: Birzeit University, 1971; BA, international relations and Middle East studies, The American University of Beirut, 1975; MA, international relations and Middle East studies, The American University of Beirut, 1977; Ph.D, Columbia University, 1985.


  • 1985–1993: Professor/lecturer at various universities in the United States and the West Bank (al-Najah, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of South Florida-Tampa)
  • 1993–present: Director of the Palestine Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR).
  • 1995–1999: Editor of PSR's Quarterly Journal of Palestine Policy, al-Siyasa al-Filastiniyya
  • 2002: Visiting scholar, the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C.

Shikaki's work concerning the refugee issue and the right of return has contributed to the understanding of Palestinian discourse and preferred courses of action on this matter. He has participated in joint Palestinian-Israeli study groups on the refugee issue, worked with Palestinian and Israeli non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and research centers, and conducted important polls and surveys among Palestinian refugees. The results of his surveys have raised some controversy, especially among some Palestinian refugees. They indicated that while Palestinians still demand the right of return as a matter of principle, only 10 percent of refugees actually indicated a preference for returning to live in Israel when selecting among the various alternatives. Upon the release of this survey's results some Palestinians protested them violently by assaulting Shikaki and damaging his office. When asked for his reaction to the violence, Shikaki claimed that often those advocating for the rights of Palestinian refugees are the ones who attempt to silence the refugees' voices when their choices do not fit the advocates' agenda.


Shikaki has studied and taught extensively in the United States and been a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution, one of the premier think tanks in the U.S. His work in the United States has given him a unique and valuable perspective on the West's academic and political attitudes toward the Middle East in general and Palestine in particular. Khalil's work is generally well respected among Palestinians and Israelis as well as in the West. It is controversial in some circles, mainly because it touches upon core issues and it is at times self-critical when Palestinians are still engaged in their national struggle.

The starkly disparate choices of how to engage in and contribute to the Palestinian national struggle are perhaps best exemplified in the approaches taken by Khalil Shikaki and by his older brother, Fathi. While Khalil is known for his outspoken yet moderate and pragmatic views and his willingness to work with Israeli and American academics and policy makers in search of peaceful solutions to the core issues of the conflict, his older brother had chosen a very different path. Fathi, a physician by profession, was one of the founders of the Islamic Jihad movement. He orchestrated and participated in a number of violent attacks against Israelis and was deported by Israel from the Occupied Territories in 1988. In 1995 Fathi Shikaki was killed in Malta. While Israel has never taken responsibility for the act, it is widely believed that Israeli agents were behind the operation.


Although it is too early to assess Shikaki's ultimate legacy, he will almost certainly be remembered as an important Palestinian thinker and a well-respected voice in the discussion of the Palestinian-Israeli problem.


Brookings Institution. Building a State, Building a Peace: How to Make a Roadmap That Works for Palestinians and Israelis. Washington, DC: The Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, 2003.

Council on Foreign Relations. Strengthening Palestinian Public Institutions. New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1999.

Shikaki, Khalil. "How Palestinians View the Oslo Process." Internationale Politik Transatlantic Edition 2, no. 4 (Winter 2001): 45-55. Available from

―――――――."Palestinians Divided." Foreign Affairs 81, no. 1 (January-February 2002). Available from

Shamir, Jacob, and Khalil Shikaki. "Determinants of Reconciliation and Compromise among Israelis and Palestinians." Journal of Peace Research 39 (March 2002): 185-202.

―――――――. "Self-Serving Perception of Terrorism Among Israelis and Palestinians." Political Psychology 23, no. 3 (September 2002): 537-557.

Shikaki, Khalil, Robert Rothstein, and Moshe Ma'oz, eds. The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process: Oslo and the Lessons of Failure. East Sussex, U.K.: Sussex Academic Press, 2002.

                                             Adina Friedman