A passionate advocate of the establishment of a Palestinian state, veteran negotiator Saeb Erekat died Tuesday from the coronavirus without fulfilling his dream of living in an independent state of Palestine.
Palestinian group Fatah said Erekat, 65, succumbed to COVID-19 at the Israeli hospital of Hadassah Ein Kerem in Jerusalem.
Born on April 28, 1955, in the town of Abu Dis in east Jerusalem, Erekat left the Palestinian territories at the age of 17 to the United States, where he lived with his father.
He obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of San Francisco in 1977 and a master’s degree in international relations from the same university two years later.
In 1982, Erekat obtained his Ph.D. in Peace Studies from the British University of Bradford. After this, he acquired American citizenship.
The prominent Palestinian figure became a professor of political science at An-Najah National University in Nablus from 1979 until 1991. He also worked as an editor at Al-Quds newspaper from 1980 until 1992.
Erekat rose to prominence when he put on a Palestinian scarf while attending the 1991 Madrid peace conference as a member of the Palestinian negotiating delegation.
He also participated in the Washington peace talks during 1992 and 1993 and was appointed as the head of the Palestinian negotiating delegation in 1994.
Erekat served as a minister for local government in the first cabinet formed by the Palestinian National Authority led by iconic leader Yasser Arafat. He was also elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 1996 and 2006.
Erekat was a close associate of Arafat during the Camp David meetings in 2000 as well as Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations in the Egyptian city of Taba in 2001.
In 2003, Erekat headed the Department of Negotiations Affairs in the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization (POL).
In 2009, he was elected a member of the Central Committee of Fatah, the group’s executive body. He was also selected as a member of the PLO Executive Committee.
During his lifetime, Erekat engaged in negotiations with six Israeli prime ministers in an effort to fulfil his dream of ending the decades-long Israeli occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state.
In 2008, Erekat authored the book “Life is Negotiations”, in which he wrote about his experience as a negotiator during peace talks with Israel.
In 2014, he authored another book, “Elements of Negotiation between Ali and Roger Fisher”, about western, Arab and Islamic negotiating behaviors. The book is a comparative study between seven elements of negotiation identified by American negotiating scientist Roger Fisher and negotiations methods identified by the Prophet’s cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib.
In October, the veteran negotiator proposed ideas for the Palestinians on how to thwart US President Donald Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” and confront Israeli plans to annex the occupied West Bank as part of the book “Erekat Vision” issued by the Arab Thinking Forum in London.
The Israeli right-wing has accused Erekat of seeking to internationalize the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by proposing that Palestine obtain full membership in UN agencies and agreements, including the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Fourth Geneva Conventions.
Before his death, Erekat headed a committee that includes representatives of Palestinian factions and NGOs to provide the ICC with documents proving the involvement of Israeli officials in war crimes against the Palestinians.
Erekat has rejected Israeli and western attempts to designate Palestinian resistance group Hamas as a terrorist organization, stressing that Hamas is a national liberation group that seeks to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian lands.
Erekat has opposed recent normalization agreements between the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain with Israel.
"I had better caught the fire and would not accept that Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher become a capital of Israel," Erekat said in response to tweets criticizing futile Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.
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*Bassel Barakat contributed to this report from Ankara