Palestinian politician and Secretary General of the Executive Committee of the PLO Saeb Erekat died on Tuesday at an Israeli hospital where he was being treated for COVD-19.

Erekat, who underwent a lung transplant in 2017, was 65.

“Saeb Erekat has passed away, the heroic knight, the commanding commander, has passed away. He passed away before he saw Jerusalem free. Peace be upon you, dear friend, the heroic leader, Aba Ali,” Fatah spokesman Osama al-Qawasmi said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of morning for Erekat, considered a champion of the Palestinian people.

“Palestine today bids farewell to this patriotic leader and the great fighter who played a big role in raising the banner of Palestine high and defending the rights of our people,” Abbas said.

Erekat has been a dynamic figure, an icon even, in Palestinian politics for decades.

  • “A towering figure in the Palestinian leadership, Erekat devoted his life to ending the conflict with Israel through the creation of a viable and independent Palestinian state,” Arab News reported.
  • “Erekat was born in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Dis in 1956 and is a graduate of San Francisco State University. He had become a feature in all external Palestinian relations as the chief negotiator as well as the secretary of the PLO’s Executive Committee,” Al-Monitor wrote.
  • “Erekat was a tireless defender of the Palestinian cause. Veteran Palestinian official Nabil Shaath described him to Al-Monitor as having the rare ability to be flexible and rigid at the same time. He has been the public face of Palestine for years. His first major public appearance was on ABC’s Nightline program during the first Palestinian intifada. He became a member of the Palestinian team under the leadership of Faisal Husseini, and as a registered (in Israeli terms) West Banker, he was allowed to attend the 1991 Madrid peace talks.”
  • “The American-educated Erekat was involved in nearly every round of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians going back to the landmark Madrid conference in 1991, when he famously showed up draped in a black-and-white checkered keffiyeh, a symbol of Palestinian nationalism,” according to an obituary in the Khaleej Times. “Over 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.”

Tributes and condolences poured in from around the world including Israel.

  • “Saeb dedicated his life to his people,” Tzipi Livni, Israel’s former justice minister, wrote on Twitter. “‘Reaching peace is my destiny,’ he used to say. Being sick, he texted me: “I’m not finished with what I was born to do. My deepest condolences to the Palestinians and his family. He will be missed.”
  • “Saeb believed in the discourse, had never been involved in violence, and even sought to establish his state alongside the State of Israel, in the spirit of the Geneva Initiative,” Former Israeli politician Yossi Beilin said. “He educated his children in peace and made sure to send them to summer camps with Israeli children.”
  • “The Palestinian cause and the entire Arab World have lost a steadfast patriot who had a clear and legitimate case and goals,” said a statement by Egyptian Minster of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry. “Erekat has devoted his life to defending [the cause] through all diplomatic and negotiated means in order to restore the rights of the Palestinian people in spite of the obstacles the Palestinian cause has faced over the past decades.”
  • Jason Greenblatt, former U.S. Middle East envoy, sent condolences to Erekat’s family. He said he and Erekat had been “worlds apart in our views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its history & how to resolve it. But he tried hard to represent his people. Wishing his family much comfort/strength during this difficult time.”
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