Saeb Erekat, Longtime Palestinian Chief Negotiator, Dies at 65


When he burst onto the international scene in 1991, as the deputy head of the Palestinian delegation at the Madrid peace conference, he stood out amid the sea of dark-suited diplomats in his black-and-white checked keffiya draped around his neck. The scarf, a symbol of Palestinian resistance and solidarity, was viewed by the Israeli delegation and others as a provocative publicity stunt.

But the Madrid conference, brokered by Secretary of State James A. Baker III, was the start of the first viable peace talks between the Israelis and the Arabs since the Camp David Accord 13 years earlier, and the first time Palestinians participated openly in direct negotiations with Israel.

Separate, secret bilateral talks led to the Oslo accords, a series of interim agreements between the Israelis and the Palestinians, starting in 1993.

Mr. Erekat was instrumental in negotiating the Oslo II Accord in 1995, the Hebron Protocol in 1997 and the Wye River Memorandum in 1998, all of which transferred Israeli-controlled territory to the Palestinians. He was responsible for drafting the texts of the agreements on behalf of the Palestinians. At other times, though, he was sidelined by his bosses, who preferred to negotiate through back channels.

The Oslo process, a source of great optimism at the time, never arrived at its intended conclusion: a final and comprehensive peace agreement that the Palestinians had expected would be between two sovereign states, Israel and a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Negotiations for a permanent deal continued on and off until 2014.

In December 2013, during the last round of serious negotiations, brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry, Mr. Erekat took his American counterpart, Martin S. Indyk, on a tour of Hisham’s Palace, the remains of an 8th-century compound said to have belonged to the 10th Umayyad caliph, near Jericho.



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