Saeb Erekat, a familiar face in Palestinian politics for 40 years, has died from the novel coronavirus, said Palestinian party Fatah. He was 65.
Erekat, a veteran peace negotiator and prominent international spokesman for the Palestinians for more than 30 years, died weeks after testing positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
In a statement, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said: “The departure of a brother and a friend, of the great fighter, Dr Saeb Erekat, is a great loss for Palestine and our people, and we are deeply saddened.”
The senior Palestinian official’s infection was complicated by a history of health issues. He underwent a lung transplant in 2017 and suffered from a weak immune system and a bacterial infection in addition to COVID-19.
Erekat witnessed tumultuous events from an early age. He was 12 years old when Israeli tanks rolled into his hometown of Jericho.
In 1967, he witnessed a war that would last just six days, but which shaped the entire Middle East in the decades since. For Erekat, it would inform the decisions he made for the restErekat said he had to grow up quickly under Israeli occupation in the West Bank. His first arrest at the age of 13 was not his last.
He attended university in the United States and moved to England to complete a PhD in conflict resolution. It was the beginning of his fight for Palestinian statehood through negotiation – advocating a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.
It was a compromise and a major concession. But throughout his life, Israelis would accuse him of being an “extremist” and sowing division, while Palestinians would call him a traitor to the Palestinian cause, giving away too much.
Erekat was one of the Palestinians’ most recognisable faces over the decades, serving as a senior negotiator in talks with Israel and making frequent media appearances. He was also a senior adviser to Arafat and current President Mahmoud Abbas.
At the Madrid peace talks in 1991, he insisted on wearing the Kuffiyeh, the symbol of Palestinian national identity. He was a hero to many back home, but at the conference, it caused a stir. of his life. Two years later, he was left out of final talks on the Oslo Accords – negotiated by then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
But Erekat would rise to become the chief Palestinian negotiator in 1995. Over the years, he resigned from the post several times before eventually being reinstated.
Controversy surrounded Erekat with the 2011 publication of the so-called Palestine Papers by Al Jazeera.
The leaked documents included more than 1,600 confidential records of meetings, emails, and communications between Palestinian, Israeli and US leaders covering the years 2000-2010.
The documents also detailed huge concessions offered by Palestinian officials to the Israeli government, without securing Israeli guarantees on key issues such as occupied East Jerusalem and the fate of refugees.
Erekat resigned after the papers quoted him as boasting of offering the Israelis “the biggest Yerushalayim [the Hebrew word for Jerusalem] in history” – which entailed the annexation of all major Israeli settlements except for one in East Jerusalem. Under international law, Israeli settlements are illegal.
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