Veteran peace negotiator and prominent international spokesman for the Palestinians, Saeb Erekat, has died after being infected by the coronavirus.
The 65-year-old passed away on Tuesday at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem where he had been receiving intensive care for three weeks.
He announced on 8 October that he had tested positive for coronavirus but his condition deteriorated and he was transferred to the Israeli hospital from his home in Jericho in the West Bank 11 days later.
Doctors said that treating him was a “huge challenge” because he had undergone a lung transplant three years ago and had a “weakened immune system and bacterial infection, in addition to coronavirus”.
Erekat was secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The American-educated political figure was involved in nearly every round of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians going back to the landmark Madrid conference in 1991.
He tirelessly argued for a negotiated two-state solution to the decades-old conflict, defended the Palestinian leadership and blamed Israel — particularly hard-line leader Benjamin Netanyahu — for the failure to reach an agreement.
As a loyal aide to Palestinian leaders, Erekat clung to this strategy until his death, even as hopes for Palestinian statehood sank to new lows.
In the weeks leading up to his death in an Israeli hospital, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain had normalized ties with Israel, breaking with the long-held Arab position that a deal on Palestinian statehood must precede normalization. Abbas and members of his inner circle, including Erekat, found themselves internationally sidelined and deeply unpopular among Palestinians. And decades of unfettered Israeli settlement expansion had made a statehood deal based on the partition of territory increasingly unlikely.
Abbas said Erekat’s death was a “great loss for Palestine and our people, and we feel deeply saddened by his loss, especially in light of these difficult circumstances facing the Palestinian cause.”
Erekat “will be remembered as the righteous son of Palestine, who stood at the forefront defending the causes of his homeland and its people.” Abbas said flags will be flown at half-mast for three days.
Tzipi Livni, a former Israeli foreign minister who negotiated with Erekat in the 2000s, said she was “saddened” by his death. In a tweet, she said he had texted her after falling ill, saying “I’m not finished with what I was born to do.” She offered her condolences, saying “he will be missed.”
Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli Cabinet minister and peace negotiator, called Erekat’s death “a big loss for those who believe in peace, both on the Palestinian side and the Israeli side.”