Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has died at the age of 65

Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has died at the age of 65

Erekat, who underwent a lung transplant in the United States in 2017, was positive coronavirus in early October, according to his office, the PLO Negotiation Department.

“Fatah is mourning her eldest son, Dr. “Saeb Erekat”, reads a post from Fatah’s social media.

He was taken to Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem in critical condition on October 18.

One of the most important Palestinian politicians of recent decades, Erekat was an important part of the negotiations between 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 W. Bush pushed for efforts to find a solution to the decades-long Arab-Israeli conflict.

Ereka appeared famous for wearing a black and white keffiyeh, a Palestinian national symbol, considered an act of defiance against Israel, which then refused to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The reluctant Israeli negotiating team in Madrid considered him a tough speedboat whose appointment alone could ruin the talks.

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

He became a familiar face on the newscast, with a familiar message. Speaking to CNN in 2001, he told Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: “Please, let’s stop gaining points, let’s stop pointing fingers. Let’s go to logic, wisdom and courage and get back to the negotiating table right away. “Without any conditions at all, because at the end of the day, we have recognized the situation in Israel. It is up to you to take the high ground and return to the negotiating table.”

He won the respect of some of the Israelis he negotiated with, including former Israeli diplomat and negotiator Alon Pinkas, who praised the Erekat principles and questioned his ability to implement them. “Saeb Erekat was a man of peace, and a man I trust, and a man I can respect. This is the good news. The bad news is that Saeb Erekat does not call for shots. He does not make decisions.”

Direct negotiations

Born in Jerusalem and educated in the United States and the United Kingdom, Erekat became a member of Fatah’s party and was close to its charismatic founder and leader, Yasser Arafat. From Oslo onwards, he supported direct negotiations for a two-state solution. Deeply distrustful of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Erekat has focused most of his criticism in recent years on the man who would become Israel’s former leader.

In 2018, following Netanyahu’s speech at the UN General Assembly, Erekat said: “His speech further reveals Israel’s systematic denial of our right to exist, to live in freedom and to celebrate our national identity. The real reality in occupied Palestine is a manifestation of what Israel is: A colonial-apartheid state … For the Israeli government, it is not just the issues of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees, but of Palestine itself. ”

Erekat believed that Netanyahu had no intention of making the concessions necessary for the creation of an independent Palestinian state, a position reinforced by the arrival of President Donald Trump. The Trump administration’s plan for peace in the Middle East required few concessions from the Israelis, while it required sweeping concessions from the Palestinians.

“What we hear about Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, about the fall of the refugee issue, security, borders, can not be called the agreement of the century,” Erekat told CNN’s Becky Anderson in January. “It is the fraud and farce of the century.”

“This is the most unfair game we have ever seen in international relations,” he added. “Someone who is trying to determine my future, my ambition, my tomorrow, the future of my grandchildren – without even bothering with my opinion – because Netanyahu wants to win the election and he wants to win the election in 2020, this is the most ridiculous chapter. ”

It was a difficult time for Erekat. Diplomats and journalists who met him in the first weeks of 2020 found him emotionally drained, reflecting a sense of personal failure, sometimes even close to tears, as he tried again to support the Palestinian cause.

Months later, when the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain announced a major reversal of Arab policy, normalizing relations with Israel, despite the lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Erekat found himself and the PLO once again. abroad.

“The UAE and Bahrain are contributing to Trump’s presidential campaign against the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people,” Erekat said on his Twitter account.

Despite these challenges, however, Erekat has remained ubiquitous in international forums and the media, continuing to insist on the importance of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even as it seemed to shrink further in the list of Western priorities. and the Arab world.

It was the mission with which it could be inextricably linked, despite the reduced possibility of its imminent realization. But he never gave up, seeing no other way to peace for the millions of Israelis and Palestinians across the region.

CNN’s Abeer Salman contributed to this report.

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