Profile: Saeb Erekat

Key Palestinian official in negotiations on final settlement of Israeli-Palestinian conflict quits over leaked papers.

Saeb Erekat
Erekat, right, said he had resigned in order to take ‘responsibility for the theft of documents from his office’ [EPA]

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator who led several rounds of peace talks with Israel over nearly two decades, has resigned from his post.

Erekat said he had quit his role on Saturday in “acceptance of his responsibility” for the leaking of archived documents detailing talks between the Palestinians and Israel.

The 55-year-old academic, whose perfect command of English was often spiced with humour, was part of every team to negotiate with Israel since 1991, with the notable exception of those who secretly hammered out the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Erekat rose to prominence as a media personality at the 1991 international peace conference in Madrid at which he wore the black-and-white chequered Palestinian headscarf.

Born in Jerusalem, he was a key figure in the Palestinian political landscape, an indispensable briefer for foreign envoys and a suave tactician who could also register indignation when necessary.

A member of the Palestinian parliament since 1996, Erekat was close to Yasser Arafat, historic leader of the Palestinian national movement, even though he did not follow Arafat into exile in Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia before his return to Gaza in 1994.

In 2009, Erekat was elected to the central committee of the Fatah wing of Mahmud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA) and to the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

He was an architect of the negotiations on a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, from the failed Camp David summit in July 2000 to the talks launched in Washington in September 2010, which were interrupted after less than a month in a row over Israel’s continued settlement building.

Significant concessions

Appointed in 2003 to head the PLO negotiating team, Erekat on Saturday justified his resignation from the post by taking “responsibility for the theft of documents from his office,” papers which he said had been “adulterated”.

He was referring to more than 1,600 documents on the PA’s talks with Israel between 1999 and 2010, released in January by Al Jazeera and dubbed “The Palestine Papers”.

Erekat occurs in the documents more frequently than anyone else, representing the PA at 116 meetings with Israeli, American and European officials, and involved with dozens of emails, internal memos and reports.

Palestinian officials worked to limit the damage caused by their publication, which showed Palestinian negotiators prepared to offer significant concessions without securing Israeli guarantees on key issues such as East Jerusalem and the fate of refugees.

Although the documents did not cause any major turmoil in Palestinian public opinion, Erekat’s position was weakened by announcements that the alleged perpetrators of the leaks worked for the PLO negotiation team he headed.

He had said that an investigation into the leaks pointed towards three nationals of US, British and French extraction being responsible.

A former journalist with the independent daily Al-Quds in East Jerusalem, Erekat holds a BA and an MA in Political Science from the University of San Francisco.

He also has a doctorate in Peace Studies from the University of Bradford in England, and taught at An-Najah University in the West Bank town of Nablus from 1979 to 1991.

Erekat has written a dozen books and lives in the West Bank town of Jericho.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies