Obituary for Saeb Erekat, a Jordanian Who Fought as a Palestinian

Saeb Erekat died on November 10, 2020 in the Israeli capital of Jerusalem from COVID-19. He had suffered from a series of health ailments before the onset of the coronavirus including a heart attack in 2012 and a lung transplant in 2017. When he was admitted to the Hadassah Medical Center on October 19, he was already in critical condition.

Saeb Erekat was born in Abu Dis in 1955 while it was under Jordanian control. Jordan had expelled all Jews from the region in a war it initiated to destroy Israel in 1948, and later annexed that territory in 1950. All Arabs living in that land were granted Jordanian citizenship in 1954. While the Jordanian annexation of the “West Bank” was not recognized by most of the world, Arabs born in the region were acknowledged to be Jordanian.

Erekat spent much of his young life in Jericho which switched to Israeli-control after Jordan attacked Israel (again) in June 1967 and lost the area it had illegally annexed. As Israel only offered Arab residents of Jerusalem Israeli citizenship after it reunified the city in 1980, Erekat remained a Jordanian.

He moved to the United States for school, obtaining a BA and MA in international relations from San Francisco State University (SFSU). He managed to get US citizenship too.

When he returned to the Middle East he settled in Israeli-administered Nablus and became a professor at An-Najah University where he began his fight as a Palestinian. It is believed that Erekat was a facilitator in creating close ties between his alma mater at SFSU and An-Najah. In later years, the Middle East Forum lobbied SFSU to cut ties with An-Najah due to its involvement in terrorist activities, the most horrific being the 2001 bombing of the Sbarro pizza store in Jerusalem which killed 15, including 7 children and a pregnant woman while injuring 130.

Erekat was arrested by Israeli police during the early days of the First Intifada in 1987 and ultimately became part of the Palestinian negotiating team at the 1991 Madrid Conference. He would play a significant role during the 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords which resulted in Palestinians having control of land for the first time, as Israel handed the Palestinian Authority (PA) several cities.

The Oslo Accords contemplated a final settlement to be reach by September 2000 but Yasser Arafat refused to accept anything less than his maximalist demands. When Israel only offered 98%, Arafat launched the Second Intifada, a gruesome spectacle of Arab suicide bombers blowing up buses and restaurants, killing and wounding hundreds of Israeli civilians. The death toll only started to come down when Israel constructed a security barrier with checkpoints to limit the flow of West Bank Arabs. By June 2004, the number of bombing attacks was cut to a handful.

With the death of the PA President Yasser Arafat in November 2004 and Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah winning the PA presidency in January 2005, Erekat aligned himself closely with his new boss. Things became complicated when the rival political party Hamas won control of 58% of the Palestinian parliament in January 2006 and then took over Gaza in a mini-Civil War in June 2007. Erekat’s vision for peace had been doomed by Arafat’s intransigence in 2000 and now appeared to be killed again by the rival party which was committed to the destruction of Israel controlling over half of parliament and almost half the Palestinian Arab population.

As revealed in the Palestine Papers, a secret trove of communication released by Al Jazeera, Erekat opted to build his credibility with Israelis while simultaneously removing his political rivals. In exchange for sensitive information about the location of terrorists wanted by Israel, Erekat was able to get US funding and weaponry for his security force. The information he shared with Israel and the weapons received from both the U.S. and Israel were used to kill dangerous Palestinians.

Many Palestinians considered Erekat a traitor for his actions, especially those among the fanatical elements in Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). However, many in the West Bank also hoped that an organized police force and the cessation of violence and terrorism could usher in a Palestinian State.

But Erekat did not factor the incompetence of Abbas or the Obama administration.

While initially very hopeful that U.S. President Barak Obama was taking a harsh stance against Israel forcing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into a ten-month settlement freeze, he could not get Abbas to move forward in any constructive way. In the second Obama administration Erekat was optimistic when he was able to lead U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry by the nose adding new requirements to negotiations which Kerry simply parroted such as Israel releasing terrorists with blood on their hands (not part of the original deal agreed to by the Israelis) and that the exchange of land between Israel and the PA would have to be of “similar quality,” an entirely new concept which Kerry now demanded of the Israelis. Just as the peace talks were getting ready to conclude in the summer of 2014, Fatah and Hamas announced a unity government – yet an additional obstacle which Israel could not accept. A bloody war from Gaza ensued shortly thereafter, just two years after Hamas launched a war in 2012.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, listens to Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat In January 2014. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool, File)

The violence would spread and Erekat would take his war on Israel to the global media stage.

In 2015 and 2016, the Arabs of the West Bank rejoined the mayhem in what became known as the “Stabbing Intifada” targeting innocent Israelis. When Israeli forces cracked down on the mayhem Erekat claimed that Israel was trying to “justify the escalating Israeli crimes against the people of Palestine,” inverting victim and perpetrator. Amid the terror, Erekat produced the “KEY POINTS TO REMEMBER WHEN REPORTING ON OCCUPIED PALESTINE,” a rewriting of history and facts that has become the staple of anti-Israel reporting.

Erekat was a consummate politician that was never embarrassed by his inversion of facts or his hypocrisy. He would advocate for BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) of Israel even while he turned to Israel for medical help; he would ask the world for financial assistance while refusing to take tax receipts held by Israel; and would proclaim that Hamas and the PFLP were not terrorist groups even while he gave the coordinates of group members to Israel for assassination.

While born a Jordanian, Erekat played politics like a Palestinian, and died in Israel’s care in the Jewish State’s unified capital city.

Related First One Through articles:

The Palestinian Maps of 1995, 1997 and 2005

Marking November 29 as The International Day of Solidarity with Jews Living East of the Green Line

Ending Apartheid in Jerusalem

When You Understand Israel’s May 1948 Borders, You Understand There is No “Occupation”

Time to Dissolve Key Principles of the “Inalienable Rights of Palestinians”

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