Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian diplomat who spent decades leading negotiations with Israel, has died at the age of 65 due to complications from coronavirus, the Israeli hospital where he has been hospitalized said Tuesday.
Erekat was taken to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital last month after several days of being treated by his daughter at his West Bank home.
Erekat led successive Palestinian negotiations with Israel for 30-odd years, including talks that led to the signing of the 1995 Oslo Accords, the first major peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. A dominant figure in Palestinian politics for decades, he became secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 2015, though his influence in shaping Ramallah’s relations with Israel and the world went far beyond the bureaucratic post.
But Erekat was also a controversial figure: For some Israelis, his uncompromising rhetoric was emblematic of Palestinian rejectionism, and he was notorious for falsely asserting that Israel had massacred hundreds of Palestinians in Jenin refugee camp in 2002. For frustrated Palestinians, he was part of an aging, unchanging leadership that had failed to deliver on its central promise — a state — even as it continued to coordinate with Israel.
They say that buyers are liars and sellers are storytellers. In my eyes, Erekat was a storyteller and snake oil salesman par excellence who never disappointed the useful idiots ready to buy his narrative. He never let the truth get in the way of trying to make the Israelis look bad in the eyes of the world. However, he was responsible for the most profound of statements ever uttered by a Palestinian Arab. In a televised conversation with an Israeli minister during the Second Intifada, his excuse for the carnage inflicted upon Israeli civilians was: “….we are prisoners of our culture….” When I watched him say those words (I was in Israel at the time) my jaw dropped. You’re in a pretty bad way if you think your culture is holding you prisoner, but then victimhood appears to come easily to the Palestinians, and in effect it is that victimhood that is preventing them from joining the comity of nations. Erekat never really learnt the lesson that, as they say in Arabic and Hebrew, “lying has no legs.” Meaning the truth always comes out. Israel’s attitude was as simple as another Arab proverb: “Avoid the company of liars, but if you can’t, don’t believe them.”