Saeb Erekat, a longtime negotiator for Palestinians, has died at 65 after contracting coronavirus


Saeb Erekat, a prominent Palestinian spokesman for decades, died on Tuesday after contracting COVID-19, his family has said.

Mr Erekat, 65, was one of the most passionate and experienced advocates of the Palestinian cause.

Although well known in foreign ministries across the world and regularly featured in the media, he was on the second tier of Palestinian politics and diplomacy.

Fluent in English as well as his native Arabic, he was a high-profile spokesman for Palestinian leaders such as Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, while never a serious candidate to succeed them.

Saeb Erekat, secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), speaks during a press conference in Ramallah in April last year.

AFP

Mr Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), confirmed on 8 October that he had contracted COVID-19. Three years earlier, he had undergone a lung transplant in the United States that left his immune system compromised.

He died after being hospitalised for weeks in Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Centre.

“With hearts full of sorrow and pain, and with patience, Erekat’s clan everywhere mourns to the Palestinian Arab people and to the Arab and Muslim nation Saeb Erekat,” his extended family clan posted on Facebook.



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Prominent Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat dies after contracting coronavirus


Saeb Erekat, a veteran peace negotiator and prominent international spokesman for Palestinians for more than three decades, has died weeks after testing positive to COVID-19.

Mr Erekat, 65, was one of the most passionate and experienced advocates of the Palestinian cause

Although well known in foreign ministries across the world and regularly featured in the media, he was on the second tier of Palestinian politics and diplomacy.

Fluent in English as well as his native Arabic, he was a high-profile spokesman for Palestinian leaders such as Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, while never a serious candidate to succeed them.

Three years ago he had a lung transplant in the United States that left his immune system compromised

Then on October 8 this year Mr Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), confirmed he had contracted coronavirus.

He died after being hospitalised for weeks in Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Centre.

Mr Erekat, who was educated in the US, was involved in nearly every round of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians going back to the landmark Madrid conference in 1991, when he famously showed up draped in a black-and-white chequered keffiyeh, a symbol of Palestinian nationalism.

Over the years, he was a constant media presence.

He tirelessly argued for a negotiated two-state solution to the decades-old conflict, defended the Palestinian leadership and blamed Israel particularly hard-line leader Benjamin Netanyahu for the failure to reach an agreement.

Mr Erekat was born in the occupied West Bank town of Jericho, where he spent most of his life.(Reuters: Mohamad Torokman)

In the weeks leading up to his death in hospital, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain had normalised ties with Israel, breaking with the long-held Arab position that a deal on Palestinian statehood must precede normalisation.

Mr Abbas and members of his inner circle, including Mr Erekat, found themselves internationally sidelined and deeply unpopular among Palestinians.

And decades of unfettered Israeli settlement expansion had made a statehood deal based on the partition of territory increasingly unlikely.

Erekat saw himself as an ordinary Palestinian

Mr Erekat was born on April 28, 1955 in Jerusalem. He spent most of his life in the occupied West Bank town of Jericho, a palm-studded desert oasis about 30 minutes from Jerusalem.

As a child in Jericho, he witnessed Palestinians fleeing to nearby Jordan during the 1967 war in which Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

In interviews, Mr Erekat often spoke about life and his family in Jericho as a way of explaining the impact of Israeli occupation to foreign viewers and to position himself as an ordinary Palestinian.

His wit and grasp of colloquial American phrases made him popular with interviewers.

Mr Erekat studied abroad, earning a BA and MA in international relations from San Francisco State University and later completing a PhD at the University of Bradford in the UK, where he focused on conflict resolution.

Mr Erekat also held US citizenship.

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When he returned to the West Bank he became a professor at An-Najah University in Nablus and an editor at the Al-Quds newspaper.

A self-described pragmatist, he invited Israeli students to visit the university in the late 1980s and condemned violence on all sides.

He was nevertheless convicted of incitement by an Israeli military court in 1987 after troops raided the university and found an English-language newsletter he had authored in which he wrote that:

Mr Erekat insisted he was advocating peaceful resistance and not armed struggle, and he was later given an eight-month suspended sentence and fined $US6,250 ($8,588).

“If they have reached the point of fining someone like me $6,250 for three words written in English and sent abroad, then the occupation is not working and they are really getting nervous,” he later said.

The first intifada, or Palestinian uprising, erupted later that year in the form of mass protests, general strikes and clashes with Israeli troops.

That uprising, along with US pressure on Israel, culminated in the Madrid conference, widely seen as the start of the Middle East peace process.

Mr Erekat was a prominent representative of Palestinians living inside the occupied territories at the time, but became a close aide to Mr Arafat when the exiled Palestine Liberation Organisation returned to the territories following the 1993 Oslo accords.

In subsequent years he routinely served as Mr Arafat’s translator and was sometimes accused of editing his remarks to soften the rough edges of the guerrilla leader-turned-aspiring statesman.

Throughout the 1990s, Mr Erekat was a frequent guest on CNN and other news programs, where he condemned violence on both sides but warned that the peace process was at risk of collapse because of Israel’s refusal to withdraw from the territories.

‘I am the most disadvantaged negotiator in the history of man’

Mr Erekat was a senior Palestinian official and was seen as a possible successor to Mr Arafat, who died in a French hospital in 2004.

Mr Erekat accompanied Mr Arafat’s body on the flight back to the West Bank for burial. He continued as a top aide to Mr Abbas and served as a senior negotiator in sporadic peace efforts in the late 2000s.

“I am the most disadvantaged negotiator in the history of man,” he told a reporter in 2007, the year Islamic militant group Hamas seized control of Gaza from Mr Abbas’s forces.

Mr Erekat resigned as chief negotiator in 2011 after a trove of documents was leaked to the pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera showing the Palestinian leadership had offered major concessions in past peace talks that were never made public.

But Mr Erekat remained a senior Palestinian official and a close adviser to Mr Abbas, who later appointed him secretary-general of the PLO.

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Israel and the Palestinians have not held substantive talks since Mr Netanyahu a hard-liner who opposes concessions to the Palestinians took office in 2009.

But Mr Erekat continued to call for a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines, accusing the Israeli leader of putting a “nail in the coffin” of hopes for peace by continuing to expand settlements.

While Mr Erekat was welcomed in world capitals, he was more controversial in the West Bank, where he was seen as part of an elite clique enjoying a jet-setting lifestyle but detached from the public and clinging to an unrealistic goal after years of failed peace efforts and Israeli settlement expansion.

He was a strident critic of US President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan, which would allow Israel to keep nearly all of east Jerusalem and up to 30 per cent of the West Bank.

He derisively said “real estate men” would never solve the conflict and accused Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu of teaming up to “destroy the Palestinian national project.”

“To reject this plan isn’t to reject peace but the contrary: Rejecting it means rejecting the perpetuation of a system of apartheid,” he wrote in a Washington Post op-ed in January.

He closed the column with the same call to action he had been issuing for nearly three decades.

“The international community must decide: Either it stands on the right side of history with the independence of the state of Palestine living side by side, in peace and security, with the state of Israel on the 1967 border — or it agrees to tolerate an apartheid regime.”

Mr Erekat is survived by his wife, two sons, twin daughters and eight grandchildren.

Reuters/AP



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Erekat, longtime spokesman for the Palestinians, dies at 65


JERUSALEM (AP) — Saeb Erekat, a veteran peace negotiator and prominent international spokesman for the Palestinians for more than three decades, died Tuesday, weeks after being infected by the coronavirus. He was 65.

The American-educated Erekat was involved in nearly every round of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians going back to the landmark Madrid conference in 1991, when he famously showed up draped in a black-and-white checkered keffiyeh, a symbol of Palestinian nationalism.

Over the next few decades Erekat was a constant presence in Western media, where he tirelessly advocated for a negotiated two-state solution to the decades-old conflict, defended the Palestinian leadership and blamed Israel for the failure to reach an agreement.

His Fatah party announced his death in a statement. A relative and a Palestinian official confirmed he passed away, speaking on condition of anonymity out of privacy concerns.

Erekat is survived by his wife, two sons, twin daughters and eight grandchildren.



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