Veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat dies at 65

Erekat, who contracted the coronavirus last month, died in a Jerusalem hospital on Tuesday.

al-monitor Saeb Erekat (R), secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization and chief Palestinian negotiator, speaks during a press conference in the Palestinian West Bank city of Ramallah on Nov. 19, 2019. Photo by ABBAS MOMANI/AFP via Getty Images.

Nov 10, 2020

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who acted as chief architect for decades of negotiations with the Israelis, died Tuesday following complications from the novel coronavirus. 

In October, his office announced that Erekat had been infected with COVID-19 and taken to a Jerusalem hospital for treatment. The 65-year-old had already suffered significant health problems before contracting the virus, and in 2017 received a lung transplant in the United States. 

On Tuesday, the Hadassah University Hospital said Erekat, who was placed on a ventilator after his condition worsened last month, died after multiple organ failure. 

His death was confirmed by the Palestinian Negotiations Affairs Department, which said in a statement Tuesday, “With heart-wrenching sadness and pain, today we bid farewell to Dr. Saeb Erekat.”

“Especially in this challenging phase in our cause's history, we will miss a stubborn and dedicated fighter for Palestine,” his office said. 

Describing his senior adviser as a “brother and the friend” on Tuesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced three days of mourning in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. 

Erekat, the secretary-general for the Palestine Liberation Organization, steered decades of talks aimed at Palestinian statehood and was once considered a possible successor to 84-year-old Abbas. Erekat was a member of the powerful Fatah faction and also served as a top adviser to late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. 

A longtime advocate for an independent Palestinian state, Erekat was part of the negotiating team that hammered out the Oslo Accords in 1995, and he represented the Palestinians at the failed Camp David summit in 2000. 

Before entering politics, the American-educated Erekat worked as a columnist for Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds and as a political science professor at An-Najah University in the West Bank city of Nablus. 

On Tuesday, Palestinians and Israelis alike posted social media tributes to Erekat. Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni wrote that her former negotiating counterpart “dedicated his life to his people.”  

“Reaching Peace is my destiny he used to say,” Livni tweeted. “Being sick, he texted me: 'I’m not finished with what I was born to do.'” 

Ayman Odeh, who heads the Arab-dominated Joint List coalition in Israel’s Knesset, also gave his condolences. 

“Saeb will not live to see his people freed from the chains of the occupation but generations of Palestinians will remember him as one of the giants who dedicated his life for their independence,” Odeh tweeted.

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