Jewish peace activists and diplomats have paid tribute to the Palestinian negotiator Dr Saeb Erekat after his death from Covid-19 in an Israeli hospital aged 65.
Alongside Fatah chairman Mahmoud Abbas and PLP leader Yasser Arafar, Erekat was perhaps the best-known Palestinian figure involved in peace talks over the past 25 years and was the architect of the Oslo Accords in 1993.
He also jointly led the Palestinian contingent in negotiations in Madrid, then Camp David in 2000 and Taba in the Sinai in 2001, before Annapolis in 2007. He spoke most recently of Palestinians’ sense of “betrayal” after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain agreed to normalise relations with Israel.
When he contracted Covid-19 last month diplomats feared the worst, given that Erekat had a lung transplant in 2017, which made him particularly vulnerable. Despite treatment in Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, he died on Tuesday.
British Jewish group Yachad said he was “a Palestinian patriot who devoted his life to advance Palestinian independence, end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and achieve peace through diplomacy,” adding that he was “a firm believer that a two-state solution was the only means to achieve peace for all peoples of the region”.
Jewish American negotiator Martin Indyk, who was US Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations between 2013-14, called Erekat “my peace brother,” adding: “Your commitment to pursuing freedom for your people by peaceful means will shine forever as a beacon that will guide them onwards.”
Among Erekat’s last public statement was his denunciation of Gulf states’ decision to establish relations with Israel, which he called “a killer to a two-state solution” and “a tremendous encouragement for Israel to continue its occupation”.
He rejected Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan as “the art of a fraud” and said that by abandoning its position that settlements were illegal under international law, the US was instead opting for “the law of the jungle”.
In 2018, when Israel refused to give the Palestinians £220 million in taxes it collects on their behalf, Erekat called it “piracy and theft”, but despite the soundbites he was known as a moderate and considered voice, meeting dozens of MPs on their visits to the West Bank to explain the Palestinian position.
Abbas this week described him as “a brother and a fighter” and declared three days of national mourning.
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