11/10/2020, 17.32
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Saeb Erekat, historic Palestinian chief negotiator, dies from COVID-19

A key architect of the Oslo Accords, he was also one of the harshest critics of the recent Abraham Accords. Hospitalised in Jerusalem, he was put on a ventilator and placed in a medically induced coma. Three years ago, he underwent a lung transplant. Palestinians and Israelis remember him.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Saeb Erekat, a top Palestinian diplomat who played key role in the 1993 Oslo Accords and a staunch opponent of the most recent Abraham Agreements, died today of COVID-19 at the age of 65.

The married father of four (two twin girls and two boys) died at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, where he had been hospitalised for some weeks.

The deterioration his health, already affected by previous medical conditions, could not be stopped, despite the best efforts of the medical staff. 

Erekat (pictured, with Arafat and Clinton) was the chief Palestinian negotiator as well as secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

After contracting the coronavirus last month, he was moved to an intensive care unit. He was a high-risk patient because of prior conditions, most notably a lung transplant three years ago after he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) declared three days of national mourning, praising the man who in the last 25 years had sought peace, or at least an agreement with Israel.

Speaking about Erekat and his work, President Mahmoud Abbas praised "our dear brother and friend, the great fighter" whose death “represents a great loss for Palestine and our people", especially in these " difficult times for the Palestinian cause”.

Born in Jerusalem in 1955, Erekat grew up in Jericho. In 1972, he moved to the United States to study, graduating with a Master's Degree in International Relations at San Francisco State University.

Back in the West Bank, he taught at Al-Najah University, Nablus, before winning a scholarship to do a PhD in Conflict Resolution and Peace Studies at the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom.

In the early 1990s, Yasser Arafat chose him to be Palestine’s international face, partly because of his good command of English, his academic profile and his limited involved in the PLO at a time when the organisation was experiencing tensions and conflicts.

He was the most neutral face among Palestinian leaders, taking part in the talks leading up to the Oslo process.

More recently, he was fiercely opposed to the Abraham Accords, criticising the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for recognising Israel, since, in his view, that would destroy whatever faint hope was left for a two-state solution. Similarly, he saw US President Donald Trump as “part of the problem”.

On 8 October, he tested positive for the coronavirus and his condition quickly worsened thereafter, so much so that he had to be moved – accompanied by his wife and children – to a well-equipped hospital in Jerusalem.

On 19 October he was put on a ventilator and placed in a medically induced coma. He never woke up.

From the start, doctors said that treating him was a "huge challenge" because of his lung transplant, his "weakened immune system and bacterial infection, in addition to coronavirus".

For Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO executive committee, his passing was a “significant transition in Palestinian history and reality. He was firmly committed to his people's rights, unwavering in his pursuit of a just peace, and totally undaunted in his quest for freedom and rights. Rest in peace and power my friend," she wrote on Twitter. 

There were also condolences from the Israeli side.

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

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni 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."

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