PROFILE: Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat

Reem El-Sabaa , Tuesday 10 Nov 2020

Erekat, who was a key figure in Palestinian politics for decades, always voiced support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

FILE PHOTO: Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat looks on during a news conference following his meeting with foreign diplomats, in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank January 30, 2019. (Photo: Reuters)

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat died at the age of 65 on Tuesday after contracting coronavirus last month.

Erekat, who was a key figure in Palestinian politics for decades, served a senior adviser to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, as well as to the current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Erekat used to make frequent appearances in the media. He was a Western-educated fluent English speaker, serving as the main speaker for foreign envoys and international media.

Erekat has always voiced support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and was Palestine’s leading voice in opposing Israel’s settlement policy in the territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

The long-time Palestinian negotiator served as the deputy head of the Palestinian delegation in the earliest public negotiations with Israel in 1991 at the Madrid Conference during the presidency of George H.W. Bush.

Then, he was the vice-chair at the follow-up negotiations in Washington in 1992-1993, according to Palestinian news agency WAFA.

Afterwards, Erekat served as the head of the Central Elections Committee, responsible for preparing for presidential and legislative elections. He resigned from his post to run for election in Jericho.

Erekat then served as the chairman of the Palestinian delegation for negotiations on elections in 1994.

Also in 1994, he served as the minister of local government, and afterward became a senior member of the Palestinian negotiation team.

In 1996, Erekat was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).

He was involved in Camp David negotiations in 2000 and in the Taba negotiations in 2001, where he served as senior negotiator in talks with Israel.

Erekat was also the Secretary-General of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) since 2015, and was a member of Fatah’s Central Committee (FCC), which is the most powerful PLO faction.

Erekat was the Secretary-General of the Arab Studies Society.

Erekat died three days after Joe Biden was elected as the United States’ 46th president. Biden was the Vice President for Barack Obama, who was the last president to press Netanyahu to stop building illegal settlements in 2009.

In 2009, Netanyahu declared that Israel would stop constructing settlements in the West Bank for 10 months as a result of US demands. He said that it was a step to resuming peace talks with the Palestinians.

The peace talks collapsed in 2014 after Netanyahu accused Palestinian President Abbas of forming an alliance with Hamas, which he called a terrorist organisation, according to The Guardian.

Since then, Israel has resumed the process of building settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Speaking to Reuters in 2019, Erekat said that the Palestinians are sticking to their demand of having their own state.

“If not this year, in five years, 10 years, 50 years. But the unfortunate thing is the longer it takes, the more victims, the more people will be killed, the more violence, the more extremism. Saving lives is about going the path of two states, and it is doable,” Erekat told Reuters in July 2019.

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