The death of Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the PLO and veteran of all the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, who died this week after falling ill with COVID-19, was a loss for his people and his family, as well as for all those who want peace and reconciliation between the two peoples. Politician, Jerusalem native, Erekat was a leader in using the diplomatic option as a means to achieving the two-state solution – first as deputy chairman of the Palestinian delegation to the 1991 Madrid Conference, all the way through the negotiations with Israel mediated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
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During that entire period, under the regime of the president of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, and after that in the government of Mahmoud Abbas, Erekat adhered to the solution of the conflict through peaceful means. Even during the days of crisis in relations with Israel, he took a courageous stand against the terrorist organizations and condemned the terror attacks against Israeli civilians. He always preserved his contact with Israeli society and served as an ambassador of good will.
Erekat was one of the supporters of the Arab Peace Initiative from March 2002, which was based on the establishment of a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 lines and an agreed upon solution to the refugee problem. He did not hide his disappointment that the Israeli occupation was deepening its roots, and that the negotiations to end it were deadlocked for many years. His death has thinned out the already weakened Palestinian “Oslo camp” – many of whose architects, led by Ahmed Qurei, Nabil Shaath, Yasser Abed Rabbo and Salam Fayyad – took part in the peace process, were damaged and disappeared.
Abbas, who next week will celebrate his 85th birthday, has not cultivated an experienced heir with a pragmatic approach, as in Erekat’s example, who will be tasked with rehabilitating the trust of the Palestinian public in a diplomatic solution.
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Erekat, like the rest of his colleagues in the Palestinian and Israeli peace camp, watched the peace process being trampled in the last years of his life under the boots of U.S. President Donald Trump, to the cries of joy of the opponents of the compromise in both nations. In the parting words he sent to his partner in the negotiations, former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Erekat expressed his regret that he was unable to complete the task he was born for.
The thwarting of this joint mission – advancing the two-state solution and a sustainable regional peace – was a missed opportunity that Israeli society cannot afford.
Erekat did not see the defeat of Donald Trump, who was the most hostile president ever toward the Palestinian people. All that is left is to hope that the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris administration, when it enters the White House in January, will rehabilitate the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and open a serious, balanced diplomatic channel.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.