Saeb Erekat, top Palestinian negotiator, dies age 65

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Intl desk, Nov 10: Saeb Erekat, the veteran Palestinian negotiator, has died at the age of 65 at a Jerusalem hospital, a month after he contracted the coronavirus, causing him to suffer multiple organ failure.

Erekat, who underwent a lung transplant in the United States in 2017, tested positive for the coronavirus in early October, according to his office, the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department, CNN reported.

During the course of his hospitalization, he received intensive treatments, including a heart-lung machine (ECMO) and drug treatments provided by top specialists at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, where he had been hospitalized since October 18.

“Fatah mourns its great national son, Dr. Saeb Erekat,” a social media post by his party Fatah read. “The president, leadership and government are mourning Dr. Saeb Erekat,” a banner on Palestine TV read.

“Our father moved in peace after he showed extraordinary strength and will, the same determination that characterized his career to achieve freedom for Palestine and a just peace in our region,” Erekat’s daughter, Dala Iraqat, said in a Facebook post. “And his commandment to us all is to adhere to the rights of the Palestinian people until they achieve freedom and independence.”

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called Erekat a “champion of dialogue and Palestinian rights.”

“I am saddened to hear the news of his tragic passing. My thoughts are with his family and the Palestinian people at this difficult time,” Raab tweeted.

Prominent member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, Hanan Ashrawi, said Erekat’s death marked a “significant transition in Palestinian history and reality.”

“He was firmly committed to his people’s rights, unwavering in his pursuit of a just peace, & totally undaunted in his quest for freedom & rights. Rest in peace & power my friend,” Ashrawi tweeted.

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that Erekat sent her a message while he was unwell, saying, “I’m not finished with what I was born to do.”

“My deepest condolences to the Palestinians and his family. He will be missed,” she tweeted. Other Israeli officials also eulogized Erekat. Nitzan Horowitz, leader of the leftist Meretz party, recalled that he and the Palestinian negotiator “argued a lot, but despite his frustration with the situation he never abandoned his adherence to the two-state solution, Israel and Palestine. Rest in peace, peace will be your Will.”

One of the most prominent Palestinian politicians of the last few decades, Erekat was a major part of negotiations between the Palestinian officials and Israel during intensive peace process negotiations in the 1990s.

He served as deputy head of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Conference in 1991, as the administration of President George H.W. Bush pushed forward efforts to advance a resolution to the decades-old Arab-Israeli conflict.

Erekat famously showed up wearing a black and white keffiyeh, a Palestinian national symbol, seen as an act of defiance against Israel, which refused at the time to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The reluctant Israeli negotiating team in Madrid considered him a hard-liner whose appointment alone could scuttle the talks.

But the Israelis would meet him again and again in successive negotiations. As the two sides tried to build on the breakthrough Oslo Accords of the mid-1990s, Erekat became the chief Palestinian negotiator, a position he would hold on-and-off until his passing.

He became a familiar face on news broadcasts, with a familiar message. Speaking on CNN in 2001, opposite Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s spokesman, he said, “Please, let us stop scoring points, let us stop finger-pointing. Let us go to sanity, wisdom and courage and come back to the negotiating table immediately with no conditions whatsoever, because at the end of the day, we have recognized the state of Israel’s existence. It is up to you to take the high ground and come back to the negotiating table.”

He earned the respect of some Israelis with whom he negotiated, including former Israeli diplomat and negotiator Alon Pinkas, who praised Erekat’s principles while questioning his ability to implement them. “Saeb Erekat has been a man of peace, and a man I trust, and a man that I can respect. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Saeb Erekat does not call the shots. He doesn’t make the decisions.”