Saeb Erekat, longtime chief Palestinian negotiator, laid to rest

Hundreds attend memorial ceremony and funeral procession for PLO’s secretary-general who died of COVID-19 complications.

Palestinian mourners and honour guard carry the coffin of late Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat during his funeral procession in the West Bank city of Jericho [Ahmad Gharabli/AFP]
Palestinian mourners and honour guard carry the coffin of late Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat during his funeral procession in the West Bank city of Jericho [Ahmad Gharabli/AFP]

Hundreds of people have attended the funeral of veteran Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, who died on Tuesday aged 65 of coronavirus complications.

Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), was a lung transplant recipient who suffered from pulmonary fibrosis. After contracting the novel coronavirus last month, his prospects for recovery were dim given his history of respiratory illness.

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, who lauded Erekat as a “great fighter” for his people, hosted an official memorial ceremony at his presidential compound in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Wednesday. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki described Erekat as “an icon of the Palestinian cause”.

Following the sombre military ceremony attended by top PA officials, Erekat’s body was driven to Jericho, where it was met at a Jericho mosque by hundreds of mourners – most of whom wore masks to protect against COVID-19 – before proceeding to a cemetery near his home for burial.

At the tree-lined graveside, PLO executive member Taysir Khaled said the Palestinian people had “lost a great national figure”.

Erekat was part of nearly every major peace negotiation with Israel and a close confidant of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who agreed to the historic Oslo accords with former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Neither Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor President Reuven Rivlin offered public condolences following Erekat’s death.

Neither Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor President Reuven Rivlin offered public condolences following Erekat’s death [Alaa Badarneh/EPA]

Erekat was involved in nearly every round of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians going back to the landmark Madrid conference in 1991, which he famously attended draped in a black-and-white chequered keffiyeh, a symbol of Palestinian nationalism.

During the next few decades, Erekat was a constant presence in Western media, where he tirelessly advocated for a negotiated two-state solution to the decades-old conflict, defended the Palestinian leadership and blamed Israel for the failure to reach an agreement.

Erekat watched despairingly as the two-state solution he had long championed faced mounting obstacles.

Those included the collapse of peace partners on the Israeli left as the country lurched to the right under Netanyahu, and persistent Jewish settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank.

“Erekat’s death marks the end of an era,” said Robert Malley, head of the International Crisis Group think-tank. “An era in which Israelis and Palestinians sought to negotiate a peaceful solution to their conflict. He embodied that era, with all its hope and all its frustrations.”

Commenting on Erekat’s death, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “Now is the time to continue his crucial work,” by renewing negotiations towards a “just and sustainable two-state solution”.

Erekat is survived by his wife, two sons, twin daughters and eight grandchildren.

Saeb Erekat was part of nearly every major peace negotiation with Israel and a close confidant of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat [File: Nasser Nasser/AP]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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