Saeb Erekat, one of the most recognizable faces in the Palestinian struggle, has died from coronavirus at the age of 65.
The longtime Palestinian chief negotiator was the youngest of the highest leadership team and was seen as the main candidate to succeed President Mahmoud Abbas, 84. The race to replace him is now a race for all at once when President Trump’s expulsion could open the door to new negotiations brokered by the United States between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Erekat served as a bridge between the early Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking efforts guaranteed by the George HW Bush administration until the turbulent era of Donald Trump, when the goal seemed more elusive than ever.
He was the main architect of the Palestinian response to the punitive measures imposed on the Palestinian Authority by the Trump administration, which included the expulsion of the Palestinian representative in Washington and the complete withdrawal of American aid.
Although a staunch nationalist and a staunch defender of the Palestinian state, Erekat was a quiet and brilliant man.
Erekat contracted the coronavirus last month. In 2017, after a decade-long struggle with pulmonary fibrosis, he received a lung transplant at INOVA Hospital in Virginia, which restored him to health but left him at high risk for dangerous infection.
Fatah, the Palestine Liberation Organization, announced that he died Tuesday at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.
Last week, as news of Joe Biden’s victory reached Ramallah and Erekat was in a coma, the Palestinian Authority said it was open to resuming negotiations with Israel, which had been frozen since then. former Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to reopen Israeli-Palestinian negotiations failed.
Erekat’s death will lead to a management reshuffle. At 47, Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK and Erekat’s protégé is the youngest Palestinian official who may soon rise to prominence.
Zomlot was kicked out of the United States in 2018 when the Trump administration closed the Palestinian representative office in Washington D.C. He is the main candidate for the reopening of a Palestinian mission in Washington D.C. early next year, while the new Biden administration is expected to renew relations.
He praised his mentor on Twitter. “Palestine lost courageous Palestinian rights defender, a titan of diplomacy and a tireless voice of reason, ”he wrote. “The Palestinian people will miss him. Our cause will be missed. I will miss him. “
Referring to Erekat as his “brother of peace”, Martin Indyk, Ambassador of President Bill Clinton to Israel, said, “Your commitment to seek freedom for your people through peaceful means will forever shine as a beacon that will guide them into the future.”
Jason Greenblatt, who served as Trump’s envoy to international negotiations, under whose surveillance ties between Washington and Ramallah were severed, tweeted that “Saeb and I were worlds apart in our vision of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its history and how to resolve it. But he made an effort to represent his people.
The Geneva Initiative, the nongovernmental group that continues to advocate for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, expressed condolences to a “staunch supporter of the two-state solution and defender of the Palestinian cause … his commitment n ‘has never wavered, nor his willingness to engage with the other side.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described Erekat as “a champion of dialogue and Palestinian rights”.
A statement from the Trump administration was not immediately available.
Erekat was born in what was then Jordanian in East Jerusalem in 1955. At the age of 17, he left home for the first time to attend high school in San Francisco as a visiting foreign student. He took a liking to the United States, graduating from San Francisco State University in 1977 with a degree in international relations, earning a master’s degree in political science two years later.
In 1983 he obtained a doctorate. in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Bradford in UK
Before joining the Palestinian negotiating team in 1991, Erekat taught political science at An-Najah National University in Nablus, West Bank, and served on the editorial board of the daily Al-Quds newspaper.
He is survived by his wife, Niemeh, two twin daughters, Dalal and Salam, a doctor, and two sons, Mohammed and Ali.
Although he remained a fan of America whom he met from his youth until his last day, he reflected on the deterioration of the relationship in a 2019 interview with The Daily Beast.
“Why this war against Palestinian moderates – and Israeli moderates – by this administration,” he asked in a conversation at his office in Ramallah.
“Is there a reason? I can’t understand. The only explanation I have is ideological. [The U.S. Ambassador] says God sent Trump to save Jerusalem. In fact, he said something worse. “Israel has a secret weapon,” he said. “’This is the only country that is on God’s side.’ So I replied that I thought Israel’s secret was its nuclear weapon.
Despite his flawless negotiating style, Erekat maintained decades-long friendships with the Israelis he negotiated with, even though they failed to strike a deal. One of those friends, former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, said in a tweet that Erekat recently texted him, while he was ill, to tell him: “I’m not done with what I was born to. “
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