Saeb Erekat, one of the most prominent veterans of the Palestinian cause, died Tuesday of coronavirus complications at the age of 65, in a death mourned far beyond the occupied territory.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas called the passing of “a brother and friend … a huge loss for Palestine and our people.”
Egypt praised Erekat, the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s secretary-general, as “a steadfast fighter … who spent his life diligently pursuing the rights of the Palestinian people.”
Erekat was a long-time architect of negotiations aspiring to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a goal he would not live to see.
A lung transplant recipient who suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, Erekat was admitted to Israel’s Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in West Jerusalem on October 18.
Given his prior respiratory conditions, his prognosis for recovery had been dim.
“He received intensive care” upon being admitted, Hadassah said in statement.
“Unfortunately, his condition didn’t improve and remained critical, and he passed away amidst multiple system failure.”
Born in Jerusalem in 1955, Erekat lived in the biblical town of Jericho in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
An academic and author with a perfect command of English, Erekat grew up in the shadow of Israel’s crushing victory over its Arab neighbors in the Six-Day War of 1967 and dedicated much of his life to seeking a resolution to the conflict.
Erekat was part of every team to negotiate with Israel since 1991, with the notable exception of the delegation that secretly hammered out the Oslo accords of 1993.
But he watched despairingly as the two-state solution that he long worked for was increasingly undermined by Israeli settlement expansion, sporadic violence, stalled peace efforts and Palestinian divisions.
When Israel and the United Arab Emirates recently agreed to normalize ties, he charged this would kill the two-state solution, strengthen “extremists” and undermine the “possibility of peace.”
Reaching peace ‘his destiny’
Former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who represented the Jewish state in peace talks with the Palestinians and had a personal relationship with Erekat, said the Palestinian negotiator “dedicated his life to his people.”
“Reaching Peace is my destiny, (Erekat) used to say,” Livni wrote on Twitter.
Arab-Israeli lawmaker Ayman Odeh, who heads the mainly Arab Joint List coalition, said: “Saeb won’t get to see his people freed from the occupation.
“But generations of Palestinians will remember him as one of the giants who dedicated his life for their independence.”
Israeli anti-occupation civil society organization Peace Now said it “will remember (Erekat’s) dedication to peace and the two-state solution.”
“As long as people like Erekat reach out their hand to peace, it’s our duty to negotiate,” it said in a statement.
Erekat took part in the failed Camp David summit in July 2000, and the September 2010 talks in Washington, which stopped in a row over Israel’s settlement building.
He was also chief negotiator in 2014 when then US president Barack Obama tried to restart peace efforts.
A former journalist with the independent daily Al-Quds in east Jerusalem, Erekat held a BA and an MA in political science from the University of San Francisco.
He also held a doctorate in peace studies from the University of Bradford in England and taught at An-Najah University in the West Bank town of Nablus from 1979 to 1991.