Arabic translator for four presidents calls it a career

Gamal Helal (middle) assists during a meeting between Yassar Arafat and then-president Bill Clinton.
It’s the end of an era.

Gamal Helal, the longtime Arabic translator to four presidents and six secretaries of state, wrapped up his last day at the State Department on Thursday. Helal was one of the only constants in U.S. Mideast policy over the past 19 years, helping the United States navigate both wars with Iraq, the war between Israel and Lebanon, and Israeli operations in Gaza. During every major peace summit — Madrid, Oslo, Wye and the 2000 Camp David talks — Helal had a key seat at the table. One foot in the State Department, the other in the White House, Helal often worked outside conventional diplomatic protocol to become a senior Mideast adviser to Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and, most recently, Barack Obama, as well as their vice presidents and secretaries of state. Now he is starting his own consultancy, Helal Enterprises, and has signed Exxon Mobil as his first client. “It’s been a privilege to serve so many presidents, vice presidents and secretaries. But everything must end to make room for new beginnings,” Helal said. As for the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, his lips are sealed.