The Next Century Foundation is sorry to hear news of the death of Dr Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian who perhaps did more than any other to help shape the Middle East peace process. May God rest his soul. Sadly he died before his time as a consequence of coronavirus.
On Tuesday 10th of November, hundreds of Palestinians attended the funeral of Saeb Erekat, Secretary General of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. Dr Erekat was a key negotiator in Palestinian peace talks with Israel, and helped negotiate the Oslo Accords in 1993, that lead to Yassar Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzakh Rabin jointly receiving the Noble Peace Prize.
History shows that peace can only be built if one party takes the first step to enter into discussions honestly and moralistically. This is what Erekat did, he took the unprecedented steps to start a dialogue of peace with Israel, to achieve what he wholeheartedly believed in, a two-state solution. This was a cause he gave earnest devotion to throughout his life, and a cause he believed in with sincerity to his final days.
Saeb Erekat received his doctorate in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Bradford, UK, having completed his tertiary education in the United States in International Relations and attaining an MA in Political Science. This solid grounding lead him to first teach Political Science at the An-Najah National University, when he returned to the West Bank, and later become the key negotiator for the PLO delegation.
Dr Erekat advocated a diplomatic solution to the Israel- Palestine conflict, asserting there was no military solution to the situation. Breaking the long-held taboo on both sides to enter discussions with their respective counterparts, Erekat took the first steps by negotiating at the 1991 Madrid Conference, albeit under guise of the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, as his counterparts were not willing to attend a conference with the PLO. These landmark discussions at the Madrid Conference were the first of many that lead to the Oslo Accords.
Erekat was involved in most of the peace negotiations with Israel, being an advocate for the two-state solution. He was remembered as a friend by both the Palestinians and the left-wing of Israel’s politicians. Described as “the brother and the friend, the great fighter” by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, his senior negotiating counterpart, Israel’s Gilad Sher, tweeted “Erekat has contributed much more than most living Palestinians to advance the resolution of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict via a negotiated 2 state Peace agreement” and was a “man he considered a friend throughout the 25 tumultuous years in the Israeli Palestinian arena.”
The death of Saeb Erekat comes a day after Remembrance day, commemorating the end of World War I that saw the signing of The Treaty of Versailles. However, scholars like the British historian, AJP Taylor acknowledge in his book, ‘The Origins of the Second World War’, “the peace of Versailles [treaty] lacked moral validity from the start”, and was a war-making rather than peace-making treaty, consequently leading to the Second World War. In the same respect, some dismiss the Oslo Accords that were negotiated by Saeb Erekat as conceding Palestinian territory without finalising the status of the fundamental issues of borders, refugees, settlements and Jerusalem, and claimed it contributed to the second intifada of 2000. Without reaching a settlement on these key issues, retrospectively the Oslo Peace accord has veered off the path for Palestinian self-determination, and arguably diminished Palestinian power.
Despite this, Dr Erekat used his position as chief Palestinian negotiator on numerous occasions in the Camp David summit in 2000, the Taba negotiations in 2001, and in 2007 working with Mahmoud Abbas at the Annapolis conference, to bring talks back on track and strike an agreement for the two-state solution, but without success.
The 65 year old past away following complications after contracting COVID-19 and was buried in his hometown of Jericho, 25 miles North East of his birth place in East Jerusalem. The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres described Dr Erekat as being “dedicated to the peaceful pursuit of justice, dignity and legitimate rights of Palestinians to self-determination, sovereignty and statehood.” Until his last few days he remained hopeful and steadfast in his belief that a peaceful two-state solution was achievable, messaging the Israel’s former foreign minister Tzipi Livni during his illness, “I’m not finished with what I was born to do”.
The Next Century Foundation extends our heartfelt condolences to his wife Niemeh and his four children Salam, Dalal, Ali and Muhammed.