Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat dies after contracting coronavirus

Key figure who helped shape Oslo accords had lung transplant three years ago

A file image of Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat who has died  of  coronavirus disease complications. Photograph: AFP

A file image of Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat who has died of coronavirus disease complications. Photograph: AFP

 

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator and one of the most prominent spokespeople for the Palestinian cause worldwide, has died in an Israeli hospital from complications related to Covid-19.

Mr Erekat (65), who had undergone a lung transplant in 2017, was rushed from his home in the West Bank town of Jericho to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem medical centre three weeks ago. He arrived at the hospital in critical condition and was immediately intubated.

“He was provided with every treatment available,” said Vernon van Heerden, head of the hospital’s coronavirus unit. The hospital said it consulted with leading physicians around the world on the best treatment for Covid -19 patients who had also received a lung transplant. “I believe we went above and beyond in our efforts to try to save him,” Dr van Heerden said.

Right-wing Israelis had protested outside the hospital against the admission of a “supporter of terrorism” and there was also widespread criticism on Palestinian social media that he chose an Israeli hospital for treatment.

Mr Erekat was born in the town of Abu Dis, north of Jerusalem in 1955, to a prominent Palestinian family. After completing studies in the United States and England he returned to the West Bank to lecture in political science at An-Najah university in Nablus.

He argued that the conflict with Israel had no military solution and he was a prominent member of the Palestinian delegation that helped shape the Oslo accords, on which the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was based.

In 1994, he was named the Palestinian minister for local government and made its chief negotiator with Israel, a position he held until his death.

He was considered a loyalist to both Yasser Arafat and his successor as Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and in 2015 also became secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

The Palestinian Authority declared three days of mourning in the West Bank. “Saeb Erekat spent his life as a fighter and a steadfast negotiator defending Palestine, its cause, its people, and its independent national decision,” Mr Abbas said, calling him a “brother” and a “friend”.

Reaction in Israel was mixed. Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who was involved in peace talks, expressed condolence. “Saeb dedicated his life to his people. ‘Reaching peace is my destiny,’ he used to say.” Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s son Yair called Mr Erekat a “terrorist who worked for the destruction of Israel”.

Amongst international leaders paying tribute was Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, who referred to Mr Erekat as a leading voice for peace.

“His willingness to engage and talk when it was not always easy or popular was a clear demonstration of his belief that through dialogue and negotiation, even the most difficult issues could be resolved,” Mr Coveney said.