“Fatah mourns its patriotic son, Dr. Saeb Erekat,” a post published on social media published by Fatah’s Fatah movement.
He was transferred to Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem in serious condition on October 18.
Erekat was one of the most prominent Palestinian politicians of the past few decades, and he was a major part of negotiations between Palestinian officials and Israel during the intense peace process negotiations of the 1990s.
He served as deputy head of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Conference in 1991, where the administration of President George HW Bush spurred efforts to advance a solution to the decades-old Arab-Israeli conflict.
The famous Erekat appeared dressed in a black and white keffiyeh, a Palestinian national symbol, seen as a challenge to Israel, which at the time refused to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization. The hesitant Israeli negotiating team in Madrid considered him a hardliner whose appointment alone could frustrate the talks.
But the Israelis will meet him again and again in successive negotiations. While the two sides were trying to build on the breakthrough of the Oslo Accords in the mid-1990s, Erekat became the chief Palestinian negotiator, a position that would have been suspended until his death.
He became a familiar face on the newscast with a familiar message. Speaking on CNN in 2001, in front of the spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, he said: “Please, let’s stop scoring points, let’s stop pointing fingers. Let us go to reason, wisdom and courage and return to the negotiating table immediately. Absolutely no conditions, because in the end we recognized the existence of the State of Israel, and it is up to you to take a high position and return to the negotiating table. ”
He won the respect of some Israelis he negotiated with, including former Israeli diplomat and negotiator Alon Pinkas, who praised Erekat’s principles while questioning his ability to implement them. “Saeb Erekat was a man of peace, a man I trusted, and a man I could respect. This is the good news. The bad news is that Saeb Erekat does not make decisions and does not make decisions.”
Erekat was born in Jerusalem, educated in the United States and the United Kingdom, became a member of Fatah, and was close to its founder and charismatic leader Yasser Arafat. From Oslo onwards, he called for direct negotiations toward a two-state solution. Because Erekat does not trust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu so much, he has focused most of his criticism in later years on the man who will become Israel’s longest-serving leader.
In 2018, following Netanyahu’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Erekat said: “His speech also exposes Israel’s systematic denial of our right to exist, live freely, and celebrate our national identity. The reality on the ground in occupied Palestine is a manifestation of what Israel is: a colonial state separated Racist … For the Israeli government, not only the issues of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees are on the table, but also the existence of Palestine. ”
Erekat believes that Netanyahu has no intention of making the concessions needed to establish an independent Palestinian state, a position reinforced by the arrival of President Donald Trump. The Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan requires few concessions from the Israelis while demanding sweeping concessions from the Palestinians.
Erekat told CNN correspondent Becky Anderson in January: “What we hear about Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and to drop the issue of refugees, security and borders, cannot be called the Deal of the Century.” “It’s the deception of the century.”
“This is the most unfair game we have seen in international relations,” he added. “Someone is trying to define my future, look forward, tomorrow, my grandchildren tomorrow – without even the trouble of a consultant – because he wants Netanyahu to win the elections and he wants to win the elections 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 exhausted, reflecting a sense of personal failure, sometimes on the verge of tears as he tries once again to discuss the Palestinian issue.
Months later, when the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain announced a major reversal in Arab politics, normalizing relations with Israel regardless of the lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Erekat found himself and the PLO once again on the outside looking inward.
Erekat wrote on his Twitter account, “The UAE and Bahrain are contributing to Trump’s presidential campaign at the expense of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.”
Yet despite these challenges, Erekat remained ubiquitous in international forums and media, and continued to insist on the importance of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even as it seemed to slide further down the list of priorities. From western countries and the Arab world.
It was the task to which he would become closely tied, though diminished potential for its imminent realization. But he never relented, nor did he see any other paths to peace for millions of Israelis and Palestinians throughout the region.
CNN’s Abeer Salman contributed to this report.