RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The Palestinians held a funeral Wednesday for Saeb Erekat, a veteran peace negotiator and spokesman for their cause who died after being hospitalized with the coronavirus.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh paid their respects at an official ceremony at the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. A military band played as an honor guard carried a coffin draped in a Palestinian flag. Erekat was to be laid to rest in his hometown of Jericho later in the day.
The American-educated Erekat was involved in nearly every round of peace negotiations going back to the 1991 Madrid conference and was a tireless advocate for a two-state solution to the conflict. He frequently appeared in Western media, where he often blamed Israel — especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — for the failure to reach an agreement.
He was a senior official in the Palestinian Authority and a close aide to the late Yasser Arafat and his successor, Abbas. Among many Palestinians, Erekat was seen as part of a long-entrenched clique of leaders who have failed to bring about a Palestinian state even as they lead a jet-setting life out of the reach of most people in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Tributes poured in from former Israeli and American diplomats after Erekat passed away on Tuesday at Israel’s Hadassah Medical Center, where he had been hospitalized for three weeks. Erekat had received a lung transplant in 2017, making him especially vulnerable to COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Abbas said Erekat’s death was a “great loss for Palestine and our people,” and ordered flags to be flown at half-mast for three days.