Dubai: Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator who was a fixture in on-again, off-again efforts to make peace with Israel over the course of three decades, died Monday from COVID-19 without realising that goal at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Karem Medical Centre. He was 65.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas mourned his “friend” Erekat on Tuesday, describing his death as a “huge loss” for his people.
“The departure of a brother and a friend, of the great fighter, Dr. Saeb Erekat, is a great loss for Palestine and our people, and we are deeply saddened,” Abbas said in a statement shortly after Erekat’s death was announced.
Erekat had tested positive for the novel coronavirus on October 8 and was taken to Hadassah Centre after his condition worsened on October 18.
He was later placed on a ventilator after his condition deteriorated further due to respiratory problems and bacterial infections. Erekat had a history of respiratory illness and underwent a lung transplant in 2017.
Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh, the PLO and Fatah party mourned the death of Erekat.
His family said that the lung transplant surgery had weakened his immunity and made it difficult for him to overcome the coronavirus infections.
Erekat first came into prominence in the early 1990s, when he was appointed deputy head of the Palestinian negotiating delegation at the Madrid Peace Conference. Since then, Erekat played a central role in Palestinian politics and diplomacy for decades. He was a high-ranking member of the PLO and led negotiating teams in Madrid, Oslo, Washington and Camp David.
Born on 1955 in the village of Abu Dis, south of Jerusalem, Erekat later played an active role in the peace talks with Israel in 1992 and 1993, when the Oslo Accords were signed between Israel and the PLO.
Erekat held several important political posts, most recently the secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO).
He was known for his major and effective involvement in negotiations with Israel after the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat appointed him as head of the Palestinian negotiating team with Israel following the foundation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994.
Erekat came from a seven-member family. He received a BA and MA in political science at San Francisco State University in the US and then completed his Ph.D. in peace and conflict studies at Bradford University in England. He was married and father of twin daughters and two sons.