Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians’ chief negotiator and  international spokesperson for over three decades, has died after battling the coronavirus.

Mr Erekat, 65, who had been invovled in almost every round of peace talks since the 1990s, had been in a critical condition and  was transferred for treatment at an Israeli hospital in west Jerusalem three and a half weeks ago. 

His son Ali confirmed his death on Tuesday, as did the Hadassah hospital where he was being treated. The family said he had died from “complications resulting from contracting coronavirus”.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab  called Mr Erekat a “champion of dialogue and Palestinian rights” and sent his condolences to the family and the Palestinian people at this difficult time. 

“I am saddened to hear the news of his tragic passing,” he added. 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas  said Mr Erekat’s death was a “great loss for Palestine and our people” particularly “in light of these difficult circumstances facing the Palestinian cause.”

He added that Mr Erekat “will be remembered as the righteous son of Palestine, who stood at the forefront defending the causes of his homeland and its people.”  Mr Abbas said flags will be flown at half-mast for three days.

 Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO executive committee, said his passing was a “significant transition in Palestinian history and reality.” 

Prominent Arab-Israeli parliamentarian Ahmad Tibi also mourned his death calling him a “friend and courageous leader”.

There were also condolences sent from the Israeli side. 

Tzipi Livni, a former Israeli foreign minister who negotiated with Erekat in the 2000s, said she was “saddened” by his death adding that he had texted her after falling ill, saying “I’m not finished with what I was born to do.” 

Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli Cabinet minister and peace negotiator, called Mr Erekat’s death “a big loss for those who believe in peace, both on the Palestinian side and the Israeli side.”

Mr Erekat had had a lung transplant in 2017 and tested positive for Covid-19 at the start of October. 

On 9 October he  tweeted that he was struggling with “difficult symptoms”, on account of the lack of immunity he had from the lung transplant. At the time he had said “things are under control, thank God”.

But his condition worsened and on the 18 October he was transferred from his West Bank home to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Bin Kerem Hospital.

Shortly afterwards his daughter Dalal said he was “fighting fiercely” against the disease. 

He was later anesthetised and put on a ventilator, according to a spokesperson for Hadassah hospital, who said that the team “shares the grief of [his] family, loved ones, friends and the Palestinian people”.  

There he famously showed up draped in a black-and-white checked keffiyeh, a symbol of Palestinian nationalism.

Two years later he helped negotiate the landmark Oslo Accords in 1993. It created the Palestinian Authority and gave Palestinians limited self-governance in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the first time since Israel occupied the territories in 1967.

Over the next few decades he was a passionate advocate of Palestinian statehood and a two-state solution becoming a constant presence in western media.  

He regularly defended the Palestinian leadership and blamed Israel for the failure to reach an agreement.

In recent years, Mr Erekat was often the public face of   war of words with the Trump administration over a US peace plan deemed the most pro-Israel vision of the region ever offered by Washington as it gave swathes of the occupied West Bank to Israel, leaving pockets of land as a Palestinian statelet with little soverignity. 

He remained an advocate of the negotiated creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel even after peace talks collapsed and the Palestinians cut ties with the US two years ago. 

Mr Erekat was born one of seven children in 1955 in Abu Dis, a town just outside Jerusalem and watched the Israelis capture the West Bank in the 1967 war.

In the 1970s he moved to San Francisco to attend university before completing a PhD in peace and conflict studies at the UK’s Bradford University.  

In the last three months of his life, the Palestinians faced a tectonic shift in regional priorities when two Gulf Arab states suddenly signed deals recognising Israel and Sudan nominally agreed a third. 

Asked a year before his death if there was a danger of the middle ground of Palestinian politics disappearing, Erekat told Reuters: “It’s happening. These are my sons and daughters and grandchildren. And they look at me in the eye and they say, you did not deliver. Let the struggle change.”

But he was adamant that in the long run, his vision would prevail. “The idea of the two-state solution will never die,” he said. “There is no other option.”

Agencies contributed to this report



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