Chief PLO Negotiator Saeb Erekat Dies from Covid

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat died Tuesday of complications related to COVID-19. He was 65.

Erekat was diagnosed with the coronavirus in early October. Having undergone a lung transplant in 2017, he was at particularly high risk for complications from the respiratory disease.

He was rushed to the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem on Oct. 18, after his condition took a turn for the worse. When his condition continued to deteriorate the following night, his family was asked to come and see him for what proved to be the last time.

Hadassah’s top physicians were involved in his care, and the hospital said it was “conferring with international medical professionals regarding this type of complex patient care policy.”

Joint Arab List M.K. Ofer Cassif was the first Israeli lawmaker to comment on Erekat’s death, calling him “a true fighter for peace” and sending his condolences to Erekat’s family and the Palestinian people.

Fellow Joint List M.K. Ahmad Tibi described Erekat as “a friend and courageous leader.”

A top Fatah member and a close confidant of Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas, Erekat has been a high-profile member of the Palestinian leadership for decades, shaping much of the P.A.’s international policy.

Erekat was born in 1955 in the town of Abu Dis, north of Jerusalem, to a prominent Palestinian family.

In 1972, he moved to San Francisco, California, where he attended community college. In 1974, he transferred to San Francisco State University, where he earned his undergraduate degree in international relations and a master’s degree in political science. He completed his doctoral degree in peace and conflict studies at Bradford University in the U.K. in 1983.

After earning his PhD, Erekat moved to Nablus to lecture in political science at An-Najah National University. He was also a board member of the Palestinian daily Al Quds for 12 years.

Erekat was an early advocate of negotiations with Israel and throughout the 1980s, he often argued that the conflict with Israel had no military solution. In 1991, Erekat was named deputy head of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Conference and the subsequent follow-up talks in Washington between 1992 and 1993, and helped shaped the Oslo Accords, on which the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is based.

In 1994, he was named the P.A.’s minister for local government and made its chief negotiator with Israel, a position he held until his last day. He was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 1996, representing Jericho.

Considered a Yasser Arafat loyalist, he also acted as Arafat’s English interpreter. In 2003, when Abbas succeeded the PLO chairman as head of the Palestinian Authority, Erekat retained his position as chief negotiator with Israel, of which he was vehemently critical throughout his political career.

Weathering the political turmoil plaguing the P.A. over the past decade, Erekat has emerged as one of the more prominent Palestinian politicians in the Western media, with many hedging that he might be named as the 84-year-old Abbas’s successor.

In mid-2012, Erekat was hospitalized in Ramallah after suffering a heart attack. Later that year he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a disease that scars and damages lung tissue. His health deteriorated further over the next five years, and in October 2017, he had a lung transplant at Inova Fairfax Hospital in northern Virginia, from which he made a full recovery.

Erekat is survived by his wife and four children. The Palestinian Authority has yet to release information about his funeral.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.


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