JERUSALEM - Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat died Tuesday of COVID-19 after weeks in an Israeli hospital.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning for 65-year-old Erekat, who for decades was at the forefront of the negotiations with Israel over an independent Palestinian state.
Speaking earlier this year, Erekat said the two-state solution remains the only viable option for a lasting peace.
"The real alternative to a state of Palestine living side by side to Israel in peace and security in the 1967 lines is one democratic secular state where Jews, Muslims and Christians can live equal, with equal voice," he said. "Those who believe that they can undermine the two-state solution and replace it with what I call one state, two systems, maintaining the status quo now, apartheid, I don’t think in the 21st century they will get away with this. It’s impossible."
He was sharply critical after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain normalized relations with Israel, calling them "Arab Zionists"and saying they had stabbed the Palestinians in the back with a poison dagger.
In Israel, some current and former officials said Erekat was a moderate who sought peace.
Reaction to death
Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni said she was saddened by his death, that he dedicated his life to his people and used to say that peace was his destiny.
But others had a far harsher view. Yair Netanyahu, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's son, said Erekat was a "terrorist who worked for the destruction of the state of Israel."
Among Palestinians, many saw Erekat as an effective advocate, including Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti, who spoke to the BBC.
"Dr. Saeb was a fighter for Palestinian rights, he was well known and a strong diplomat," Barghouti said. "He ran lots of negotiations on behalf of Palestinians, and he was the Secretary General of the PLO, so of course it's a big loss for everybody. I must say that he did not stop working even when he knew that he was risking his life given the spread of the coronavirus, and unfortunately he is now another victim of this horrible virus."
Decades of talks
Erekat was in charge of the negotiations that eventually led to the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which laid out a roadmap for the peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that included Palestinian self-determination. In the decades since, both Israelis and Palestinians have moved away from the Oslo Accords, and in the past years, talks have been frozen.
Erekat became the secretary general of the PLO in 2015.