The ever-optimistic peace negotiator, Saeb Erekat, who forged close relations with his Israeli counterparts and pressed for a two-state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until his final days, has died.
Erekat, 65, died Tuesday in Ein Kerem, a suburb of Jerusalem, at the Hadassah hospital, where he was in the care of Israeli doctors. Because he received a lung transplant in 2017, Erekat was in a high-risk group.
A large part of Erekat's adult life was devoted to various attempts to reach a peace agreement with Israel. At the 1991 Madrid talks convened by President George H. W. Bush, he was the deputy head of the Palestinian delegation, the first time that Israeli government officials negotiated directly with Palestinian counterparts, albeit in a multilateral setting.
Once the Oslo peace process direct talks were underway in 1993, he became the Palestinian chief negotiator and, with a few absences, remained in that position throughout his life. He was also the general secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee.
Erekat, a Ph.D. in political science trained in the United States and England, was renowned for his erudition, his long memory, and his sharp expressions of acerbic anger, often rapidly softening to conciliation. He announced his resignation several times as the top negotiator but never left the job.
He could infuriate Israelis, accusing the nation of practicing apartheid, and misrepresent the Second Intifada battle in Jenin as a massacre.
However, after his hospitalization, he maintained friendships with his Israeli and Jewish interlocutors, earning him their well-wishes and their condolences after he died.
Saeb dedicated his life to his people, "said Tzipi Livni, whose negotiations with Erekat often turned to shout and recrimination during the Annapolis talks of 2007-2008, when she was Israeli foreign minister."
Reaching peace is my destiny, "she said on Twitter," what he used to say. He texted me, being sick, 'I am not finished with what I was born to do.' My deepest condolences to the people of Palestine and their families.
"Rest In Peace, my brother of peace," Martin Indyk, a top U.S. peace negotiator for years, said on Twitter. "As a beacon that will guide them onward, your commitment to pursuing freedom for your people by peaceful means will shine forever."
He publicly mourned Yitzhak Rabin after the murder of the Israeli prime minister by a Jewish extremist and wept when a reporter informed him that Rabin had been killed.
He would gently remonstrate with pro-Palestinian activists who blamed the impasse on Israel alone, saying that some opportunities had also been missed by the Palestinian leadership.
Were we making mistakes at Camp David as Palestinians? In a 2005 speech at the Palestine Center, a pro-Palestinian thinktank in Washington, he said. "You bet we have made mistakes, but we have not been the only ones who have made mistakes."
Erekat tried to form close ties with the top peace brokers in the Trump administration, and when he underwent a lung transplant in Washington, he welcomed them to his hospital room.
However, after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the Trump administration and the Palestinian Authority cut each other off, relations turned bitter. Erekat engaged in a battle of personal insults with Jason Greenblatt, Trump's top negotiator, in 2018.