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Senior Palestinian Official Saeb Erekat Dies of COVID-19

Israeli parliamentarian Ayman Odeh: ‘Generations of Palestinians will remember him as one of the giants who dedicated his life for their independence’

Saeb Erekat, the chief peace negotiator for the Palestinians, has died from COVID-19. He was 65.

Erekat was one of the highest-profile Palestinian figures, serving as secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a long-time architect of negotiations to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Participating in almost every Palestinian negotiating team since 1991, though not the delegation that secretly worked out the 1993 Oslo I Accord, Erekat often articulated official Palestinian policies and positions for the media and to the world.

He was greatly angered by the recent Abraham Accord agreements to normalize ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. He thought this approach would bring an end to his dream of a two-state solution by strengthening extremists and undermining the possibility of peace.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Erekat’s passing was that of “a brother and friend” and “a huge loss for Palestine and our people.”

Egypt praised Erekat as “a steadfast fighter … who spent his life diligently pursuing the rights of the Palestinian people.”

Former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who represented Israel in peace talks with the Palestinians, had a personal friendship with Erekat. She tweeted, “Reaching Peace is my destiny he [Erekat] used to say. Being sick, he texted me: ‘I’m not finished with what I was born to do.’”

Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab-majority Joint List faction in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, said, “Saeb won’t get to see his people freed from the occupation. But generations of Palestinians will remember him as one of the giants who dedicated his life for their independence.”

Born in 1955 in Abu Dis, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Erekat resided in Jericho, just north of the Dead Sea in the West Bank. Over the past decade, his health took a downward turn. He suffered a mild heart attack in 2012 and underwent a lung transplant in 2017 in the United States, having suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, a disease that leaves the lungs scarred and inefficient.

In mid-October, he was admitted to the intensive care unit of Hadassah-Ein Karem Hospital in Jerusalem. Due to his respiratory conditions, the prognosis for his recovery was dim.

In a statement, the hospital wrote, “Unfortunately, his condition didn’t improve and remained critical, and he passed away amidst multiple system failure.”

Erekat is survived by his wife Niemeh and four children.