Saeb Erekat began fighting Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine at the age of 13.
Senior negotiator and respected “public face” of the Palestinian cause Saeb Erekat died Tuesday at age 65 due to complications from COVID-19.
Erekat was a staunch proponent of a two-state solution and defender of the Palestinian cause, unafraid to blame Israel for the two sides’ failure to reach an agreement or to condemn Israel’s illegal settlement policy in the occupied territories.
Since the 1991 Madrid conference, the international spokesman participated in almost every round of peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine.
He also served as a senior adviser to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as well as to current President Mahmoud Abbas.
Life under occupation
Israeli forces entered his hometown of Jericho when he was just 12 years old and he was first arrested at age 13. Living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank, Saeb Erekat said he had to grow up quickly, according to Al Jazeera.
The Six-Day War of 1967 shaped not only the future of the Middle East but Erekat’s life decisions, as well. After obtaining his Ph.D. in conflict resolution, he began fighting for Palestinian statehood via negotiation.
He advocated for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, a view that earned him a reputation as an “extremist” among Israelis and a “traitor” among Palestinians.
Saeb Erekat became the chief Palestinian negotiator in 1995 and tendered his final resignation in 2011. Al Jazeera had exposed confidential records detailing the concessions he was willing to offer the Israeli government, including the annexation of illegal settlements.
Despite the scandal, he remained a respected figure in the fight for the Palestinian cause and became instrumental in gaining observer status for the State of Palestine within the UN in 2012.
He continued to support a two-state solution while admitting disappointment in the evolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict. The greatest disappointment, however, came this August with the US-led normalization deals between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain. He accused the parties’ leaders of killing the two-state solution.
He said the agreements marked “the birth of Arab Zionism” and described them as “a poisoned dagger stabbed into the Palestinians’ back.”
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader tragically did not live to see a Palestine free of Israeli occupation.
He received a novel coronavirus diagnosis on October 8 and was hospitalized in Jerusalem, but his condition quickly deteriorated.
On October 19, medical personnel put Erekat, who underwent a lung transplant in 2017, on a ventilator and into a medically-induced coma. A few days later, on October 21, health professionals intubated him and placed him on a machine to oxygenate his blood.
Erekat’s chronic respiratory problems, unfortunately, heightened his vulnerability to fatal complications from COVID-19.
PLO’s Fatah party announced Saeb Erekat’s death on November 10. He leaves behind a wife, two sons, twin daughters, and eight grandchildren.