Saeb Erekat (Sa’ib Muhammad Salih ‘Urayqat, Abu Ali). Academic & politician. PLC member (representing Jericho), member of the PLO Executive Committee and Fatah Central Committee; commonly referred to as Palestinian Chief Negotiator, though technically Head of PLO's Negotiations Affairs Department. Professor of Political Science at An-Najah National University, Nablus (on leave of absence since the Madrid Conference).
Sixth of seven children, born 28 April 1955 in Jericho (still lives in the same house); member of a prestigious East Jerusalem/Abu Dis family (centred on Erikat House, till commandeered by Israel in 1967). Father, Muhammad, was a long-time resident of the U.S., who founded a bus company on return to Palestine, but lost everything in the 1967 war. Read Erekat’s memories of 1967, and here in English).
Educated from age three through twelve at Terra Sancta Roman Catholic School, Jericho. Israeli occupation began when he was twelve; first arrest at thirteen. Sent overseas to the U.S. to study at seventeen (to family in San Francisco). Graduated from San Francisco State University with BA in Political Science (1977), and MA in International Relations (1979). Elected President of the Arab Students Association while at SFSU.
Upon return to the West Bank in 1979, lectured in Political Science at An-Najah National University (photo). Won a scholarship to the doctoral program at the University of Bradford in the U.K. Studied conflict resolution at the Quaker-endowed Dept of Peace Studies, graduating D.Phil in 1983, with doctoral thesis on The Role of OPEC in the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Has said that it was at Bradford that he became convinced that there was no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it would end only through negotiation.
The uniqueness of my conflict with the Israelis is that it cannot be played as a zero sum game. It’s two winners or two losers, and two losers we have been -- dictation, walls, settlements, occupation, bigotry, racism. And winning is only through the path of peace and negotiation. That’s what I’m offering them.
- Interview with Kate Seelye; PBS Frontline, March 2006.
Began peace activism by writing op-ed pieces and news articles for the leading Palestinian daily newspaper, al-Quds. One of his 1982 articles, calling for a dialogue between Palestinian and Israeli academics, provoked an explosion of anger on the An-Najah campus, and a boycott of his classes by students protesting his "betrayal" of the Palestinian cause. He went on to open an exchange program in 1983, bringing to An-Najah Israeli students from the University of Tel Aviv; for which he was accused of treason by Palestinian students and arrested by the Israeli military authorities on the grounds that he was “sowing division among Israelis”.
Published eight books and numerous research papers on conflict resolution, international relations and modern Palestinian history. Currently working on a volume detailing the course of I/P negotiations since 1991. Also served as An-Najah's Public Relations Director (1982-86).
Rose to "inside" Palestinian leadership position when he was one of the young academics (also Hanan Ashrawi & Sari Nusseibeh) groomed by PLO representative in Jerusalem, Faisal Husseini. Served as Sec-Gen of Husseini's Arab Studies Society. Joined the editorial board of al-Quds newspaper in 1982 (till 1994).
First came to prominence outside the Occupied Territories following the break in relations between King Hussein of Jordan and Yasir Arafat’s PLO in Feb 1986, which led to a rapprochement between Israel and Jordan who hoped to bypass the aspirations of Palestinian nationalists by dominating the West Bank between them. Erekat was an outspoken and repeated critic of this so-called “Jordanian option”. The result, as the New York Times noted at the time, was that while Erekat’s support for a two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders was regarded as the epitome of Palestinian moderation elsewhere in the world, at home in the Israeli-occupied West Bank it was regarded as dangerous extremism.
During a search of his office for incriminating materials in June 1986, the IDF confiscated an English-language newsletter Erekat had written for overseas friends of an-Najah, in which he said that Palestinians should “endure and reject and resist” military rule, withdrawing their cooperation from all the trappings of the Occupation. This led to his arrest in Aug 86, on charges of “inciting sedition” and “printing illegal literature”. While accepting that he was not advocating violent resistance, the military prosecutor argued at trial that Erekat was “a respected opinion leader and should be made an object lesson”. He was convicted on 7 Apr 1987, and his appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court against his conviction and resultant jail sentence and fine was rejected the following June on the grounds that "there is no freedom of speech in the territories”. Was under intermittent house arrest during early years of first intifada.
''When I listened to that sentence I thought to myself, the Israeli occupation must really be in trouble,'' said Mr. Erakat. ''If they have reached the point of fining someone like me $6,250 for three words written in English and sent abroad, then the occupation is not working and they are really getting nervous. They have become politically blind.''
-- Israel-Jordan Alliance Quietly Taking Root on the West Bank; NY Times, 9 Aug 1987.
In May 1988, Erekat was one of three Palestinians (Haidar Abdel Shafi and Hanan Ashrawi were the others) to participate in ABC Nightline's Town Hall meeting from Jerusalem (photo, below). First time that Palestinians and Israelis had addressed a TV audience together.
Following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, Erekat was outspoken in his criticism of the U.S. resort to military intervention to deal with Saddam Hussein. Noting the speed with which the Americans acted to end the occupation of oil-rich Kuwait, even as Palestinians entered their 23rd year under occupation, he warned that the Middle East did not need to be destabilized further by wars fought for control of what lay under its sand, but needed to be stabilized instead through wide-ranging reforms that met the aspirations of the people who lived there. First, it needed democracy, so that political dissent had outlets other than sectarianism and religious extremism; second, it needed more equitable distribution of wealth, with oil-rich regimes diverting more of their petroleum profits into regional development and esp into achieving food self-sufficiency; and third, it needed a negotiated end to the “bleeding wound” of the I/P conflict which, as a grievance of visceral import on the Arab street, would continue to provide recruits for extremism throughout the region as long as it remained unaddressed.
Absent these three reforms, the U.S. might easily overthrow Saddam Hussein in 1990, but would find itself repeatedly facing new Saddam Husseins as the underlying causes of regional instability remained unaddressed. He warned furthermore that toppling Saddam by force would not only fail to produce the quiescent Iraq the U.S. hoped for, but would produce instead profound unanticipated consequences, by greatly increasing anti-Americanism, religious militancy, and the influence of Iran throughout the region. The U.S. was therefore making an error of strategic importance if it chose to unseat Saddam by force, instead of offering him a face-saving formula for getting out of Kuwait.
Erekat at first turned down an invitation from Arafat to serve on the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Conference on Middle East Peace that was organized in the aftermath of Gulf War I, but subsequently accepted and served as deputy leader (under Dr Haidar Abdel Shafi) of the Palestinian/Jordanian delegation to Madrid, and subsequently to the Washington talks (1992-3). Got a reputation as a born politician and thorough and competent negotiator, though with an acerbic tongue, sometimes unpredictable and emotional, and tending to impulsiveness. Almost excluded from Madrid five days before the conference began, for stating publicly what most commentators knew but were not supposed to say: i.e. that the Palestinian delegates – limited at Israel’s insistence to “inside” Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, so as to preserve the façade that Israel was not dealing with the “terrorists” of the PLO - recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of all Palestinians, and would effectively be a PLO delegation to the talks.
Also created a stir at the opening session by wearing the black-and-white hatta (kaffiyah), the visible symbol of Palestinian national identity: a show of defiance that did not endear him to U.S. delegates Dennis Ross and James Baker III (who accused him of showboating), nor to hard-line Israeli P.M. Yitzhak Shamir who, thanks to the seating plan around the main conference table, found himself sitting face to face with the universally-recognized symbol of PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat.
President Bush addresses the Middle East Peace Conference, Madrid, 30 Oct 91.
Credit: George Bush Presidential Library.
Erekat’s action resonated, however, with his constituents who, after decades of being told that Palestinians didn’t exist as a people, and that their fate would be decided by others, gave him a hero’s welcome on his return to Jericho.
Saeb Erakat, a Palestinian professor and newspaper editor, sat among the rows of delegates at last week's Middle East peace conference, a black-and-white checked scarf folded carefully around his shoulders… The 36-year-old resident of the West Bank community of Jericho gazed steadily at Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
"I was looking Shamir in the eye, saying, `You can't deny my existence anymore,' " Erakat recalls. " ‘I am here.’ "
-- For the Palestinians, New Faces and a Measure of Legitimacy; Los Angeles Times, 3 Nov, 1991.
Joined Faisal Husseini and Hanan Ashrawi in resigning (8 August 1993) as delegates to the (largely unproductive) Washington talks, complaining that the “inside” PLO was being excluded from decision-making by Arafat and the Tunis PLO. (It was worse that they knew: while the Washington talks were ongoing, Arafat was simultaneously conducting the secret back-channel talks with the Israelis that would result in the Oslo Accords. When Oslo was made public, the "inside" PLO regarded the accords as problematic, as they put the Palestinians’ leading concession i.e. the recognition of Israel on 78% of mandate Palestine, at the opening of the peace process, with no guarantees of statehood, end of occupation or dismantling of settlements in return). Hanan Ashrawi's account of the early years of the Peace Process, "This Side of Peace", includes her impressions of Erekat.
Was reconciled with Arafat and became the only member of the inside leadership to make the leap to Arafat's inner circle after the return of the PLO-in-exile from Tunisia. Was responsible for the creation of Jericho's city council under the Gaza-Jericho agreement in 1994, and managed to put together a national unity government including even the rejectionist parties Hamas and the DFLP. Their inclusion in government helped to prevent the emergence of a competing militant infrastructure in Jericho, which was the only West Bank city to escape major military intervention in the second intifada.
Appointed lead negotiator for the interim phase of peace talks in 1995. Became the public face of the Palestinians to the English-speaking world during the peace process; appeared on CNN more than any other foreign dignatory in the 90's, usually with an appropriate anecdote or image to explain the inexplicable to a Western audience. Also in Israel, where he and Jibril Rajoub became viewed as the acceptable face of the PLO.
Erekat warned early in the process that Oslo was fragile, and would retain public confidence only as long as it produced results on the ground. He noted as early as January 1994 that Rabin’s failure the previous month to carry out the scheduled withdrawal of Israeli troops and transfer of civil authority to the Palestinians in Jericho and the Gaza Strip – a delay Rabin had defended on the grounds that in the peace process there were “no sacred dates” - had led to a precipitous drop in support for the peace process among Palestinians, who suddenly wondered if, having received in advance the PLO’s recognition of Israel on 78% of historic Palestine, the govt of Israel was really serious about implementing its own obligations for withdrawal and self-rule in the Occupied Territories. (When asked during a June 2003 interview with BBC News, and also here, to identify both sides’ principal errors during the peace process, Erekat described “no sacred dates” – i.e. the belief that commitments to the Palestinians could be sacrificed for domestic political considerations – as Israel’s biggest mistake. On the Palestinian side, the biggest mistake was “we did not prepare our public for what it takes to make a comprehensive peace on all issues of negotiations”, but instead courted popularity by telling people what they wanted to hear).
He saw the real crisis in the peace process arrriving under the premiership of Netanyahu, who had warned in 1994 - soon after succeeding Yitzhak Shamir as Likud party leader – that should he become Prime Minister of Israel, he would feel no obligation to honor the Labor Government's Oslo agreement with the PLO. Erekat warned that the peace process had been transformed by Netanyahu’s election to the premiership in 1996:
What a difference between the Rabin era and that of Netanyahu… When I sat before Rabin's delegates, I saw Israelis whom I wished to resemble. They were sure of themselves, could see where Israel's interests lay and envisioned what their country would look like three centuries from now. When I met with people such as Danny Naveh, Dore Gold and their friends, I saw only shortness of vision. People with no historical consciousness, who possess an imaginary sense of power and dangerous political blindness. I am sorry to say that Israel's great men have disappeared. Where are the heirs of Ben Gurion, Rabin, Peres? All that's left are amateurs on a par with student union representatives worried about the cost of tuition.
- The Man With The Keffiyeh; Ha’aretz (archived, subscription req’d), 26 Jun 1998.
Erekat maintained that the key to the survival of the peace process was whether the U.S., the only party with significant leverage over Israel, would insist upon continuing adherence to Oslo, or turn a blind eye to the actions of an Israeli govt that did not feel bound by it. When Netanyahu initiated a new program of Israeli settlement in occupied East Jerusalem, and the Clinton Administration proved unwilling or unable to restrain him, Erekat concluded that the U.S. administration had calculated it was politically easier to blame the Palestinians for the faltering peace process, than to face the domestic political ramifications of holding Israel accountable. By early 1997 he was deeply pessimistic about survival of the Oslo process…
We had an agreement that was witnessed and signed by President Clinton. The question is: 'Did you, Mr. Clinton, sign this agreement as a photo op? Or was your signature there to guarantee the precise and accurate implementation of this agreement?' "
Palestinians say they do not believe that Americans realize the depth of the crisis. The implication is that the peace process could disintegrate into combat between the Israeli army and an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 armed Palestinians -- a conflict the Israelis no doubt would win, but with tremendous casualties and political costs.
"I think we're in deep, deep trouble. I think we have a major and serious crisis as far as the peace process is concerned," Erekat said. "To be honest with you, I think the worst is coming.
- Palestinians Lose Faith in U.S. as a Force for Peace; LA Times (subscription), 28 Apr 1997.
… and aware that he was part of a peace process that was increasingly detached from, and irrelevant to, the realities on the ground in the Occupied Territories:
In a conversation held in his office in Jericho, he said that we should keep things in proportion: if setting dates for convening the various Israeli-Palestinian committees is considered progress, then fine, call it progress. And if the search for a mechanism to implement a memorandum which he says was itself a mechanism to implement a previous agreement is also progress, then he does not want to associate himself with this laundering of words.
He says he is aware of the absurdity of the situation, but there is no choice.
- Interview with Amira Hass, Ha’aretz (archived, subscription req’d), 23 Aug 1999.
Erekat was the Palestinians’ lead negotiator at Wye River, Hebron, and Camp David (July 2000; photo, below left). Was a major source of info on Camp David for Enderlin's Le Rêve brisé / Shattered Dreams, and leading contributor to the award-winning documentary of the same name. Has not publicly stated whether he personally would have accepted the Camp David offer, but has said that when settlement is reached it will be along the lines of the Clinton Parameters that arose from Camp David and were discussed at Taba. Since 2004, he has participated in the There Is A Partner campaign, in support of the Geneva Initiative. He has strongly urged Israel to accept the Arab League peace initiative of 2002 as a basis for final-status negotiations - describing it as the most significant Arab initiative since 1948 – and maintains that good-faith negotiations for a two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders would need only three months (link is to video) to produce an agreement.
Served as Arafat's personal translator to English-speaking audiences, e.g. photo below right, at Downing St, May 1998. Among bilinguals, gained a reputation (which he is aware of, and parodies) for creative translation, ignoring Arafat's answers and giving his own opinion instead.
Headed election commission to prepare for first Palestinian elections in 1996; praised as generally free and fair. Resigned early in order to stand on the Fatah slate for Jericho's PLC seat, which he won with 62% of the vote. (Highest winning percentage for any candidate, with exception of Abdel Shafi in Gaza).
Appointed by Arafat to Cabinet as PA Minister for Local Government in 1994. Criticised at grassroots for failure to bring about local elections (possibly out of fear of a good showing by Hamas, which initially boycotted national elections, but was willing to contest local ones). Has a long history with militants on his own side, ever since his first advocating a negotiated solution: e.g. family threatened by Hamas gunmen in Feb 93 home invasion while he was absent in Syria, and numerous death threats.
Retained the Local Government portfolio until April 2003, when appointed Minister for Negotiations Affairs in the first cabinet of PM Abbas (Abu Mazen). Resigned 16 May 2003 from government possibly after falling out with Abu Mazen over his exclusion (rumored to be at the request of Israel) from the Palestinian delegation to first Road Map talks with Sharon. Was reportedly unwilling to be caught in a power struggle between Arafat and Abbas, and simultaneously offered his resignation to Arafat from his position as head of interim negotiations in the PLO Negotiations Affairs Dept; but this was rejected and Arafat instead promoted him to head the department, at the expense of previous incumbent…Abu Mazen. Reinstated as Negotiations Minister by Abu Mazen, 4 September 03 (in a move probably signifying that the differences between Arafat and Abbas lay not in Erekat’s field – i.e. negotiations with Israel – but in Muhammad Dahlan’s, i.e. security). Lost his Cabinet post again in the purge of Arafat loyalists that followed the election of Mahmoud Abbas to the PA Presidency in January 2005.
Apparently retained intense personal loyalty to Arafat, though relationship was reportedly stormy. In early 90's, Erekat (as one of the youngest members of the Madrid delegation) was usually the target of Arafat's wrath when Arafat wished to challenge the Madrid delegation but did not dare take on its more senior members. Additionally, Erekat resigned in protest at Arafat’s handling of the Washington talks on 8 August 1993; resigned as lead negotiator 22 September 1998 [but subsequently reinstated] in row over negotiating strategy regarding prisoner releases; fired and later reinstated 3 September 1999 in a dispute over implementation of the Wye Accords; publicly defied Arafat [Summer 1995] in refusing to return to her family a Palestinian Christian, Vivianne Dellou, who had taken refuge in the Erekat house after an affair with a Muslim and subsequent threat of "honor killing".
Journalist Charles Enderlin commented following 16 May 2003 resignation that privately Erekat had for much of the previous two years been as sick of the Palestinian leadership as he was of Sharon. At that time Erekat called for the holding of overdue elections, and hinted that he might be considering a run for President. Was apparently a favored candidate of Bush/Blair for the PA Presidency; may have been approached in this regard by CIA in early 2002, but rejected Bush’s call for Arafat's ouster in June 2002, publicly declaring that “the days of palace coups are over”.
Erekat was a close ally of Rajoub till Rajoub's fall in 2002. Subsequently he was one of the "Gang of Five" (with Hassan Asfour, Muhammad Dahlan, Muhammad Rashid and Nabil Sha'ath) that effectively ran the PA while Arafat was besieged between March and May 2002. Named by Arafat as one of five "future leaders of the Palestinian people" who should assume power in the event of Arafat's death during the siege. (Abu Mazen, Abu Ala, Mohammed Dahlan and Yasser Abed Rabbo were the others). Despite his lack of a military background, he was approached by Ramallah Tanzim to represent them in ceasefire talks in the absence of Barghouti (2002). Always stayed publicly very loyal to Arafat, incl the power struggle with Abu Mazen; though he played a leading role (with Ahmed Qureia) in mediation efforts between the two, and was used by Abu Mazen as a conduit to the Americans. His priority seemed to be to keep the PA intact and functioning constitutionally, with Arafat as the key to preserving Palestinian unity.
After the resignation of Abu Mazen, he was appointed Minister of Negotiations in the emergency cabinet of Ahmed Qureia, and was suggested as a possible Deputy PM. He kept the Negotiations portfolio in Qureia's full government (10 Nov 2003). A November 2003 opinion poll by the Development Studies Programme at Bir Zeit University found Erekat the most popular appointment in the Qureia government, with an approval rating of 64% (compared with 44% for Qureia himself).
Served as Arafat's representative abroad while Arafat was confined to Ramallah, esp for liason w/Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Has connections in his own right to progressive groups worldwide, e.g. South African ANC, German Greens, British Labour Party and liberal Jewish organizations in the U.S. In June 2003 appeared as representative of the Arab countries in BBC's "What the World thinks of America" survey.
Erekat has been one of very few senior PA figures to escape charges of corruption. Tends to make enemies inside Fatah by speaking bluntly, especially against the older generation PLO who returned from Tunis, whom he has accused of reducing the people of the Occupied Territories to economic ruin. He was a supporter in the PLC of the anti-corruption "Where did you get that?" legislation, and accused Parliamentary colleagues of taking kickbacks from Arafat in a public outburst at the PLC.
Retained his PLC seat in the Parliamentary election of 26 January 2006 which otherwise saw Fatah routed and brought Hamas to government, taking two-thirds of the vote in his hometown constituency:
Hamas was expected to do well in the Gaza Strip. It duly won 15 of 24 constituency seats there. What was astounding was its success in the West Bank. Of the 37 unreserved constituency seats in the West Bank, it won 30. Fatah’s residual victories came mainly in backwaters, less affected by the tidal wave of change, such as sleepy little Jericho where the victor was the Palestinian National Authority’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, who, unusually in the Fatah leadership, has a reputation for incorruptibility.
- A ballot too far? by Bernard Wasserstein; The Tablet, 4 Feb 2006.
Erekat was strongly opposed to Fatah’s entering a Hamas-led unity government following the January 2006 elections (Abu Mazen sent him off on a wild goose chase to Washington DC to ensure he wasn’t around when the Mecca Agreement with Hamas was finally signed in February 2007). Erekat argued that alternation of power was a natural phenomenon in a democracy and that Fatah should not be afraid of accepting the role of a vigorous but loyal opposition, while using the opportunity to rebuild itself, primarily by holding the long-overdue 6th Fatah Congress that would allow for the holding of the movement’s first internal elections since 1989. Also maintained that, having won an absolute majority of PLC seats, Hamas should have to take the responsibility of governing. A Fatah presence in government, on the other hand, would allow Hamas to retain the benefits of power without having to do the dirty work of government – such as dealing formally with Israel, cooperating with the U.S., abiding by past agreements arising out of the Oslo framework, accepting the Saudi peace initiative and U.N. resolutions that require recognition of Israel – “collaborationist” tasks which Hamas would be happy to leave to Fatah.
Erekat’s poor relationship with Hamas (and the antagonism is mutual) stems partly from his being a strong advocate of a secular Palestinian state, in which religion is properly the business of the individual, not the govt or constitution.
All I know is that God - of the Jews, Muslims and Christians - is a God of peace, a God of healing and forgiveness, of morality. He's not about bloodshed or vengeance or hatred. And it's time to stop using God for endgames that will result in us going to the cemeteries to bury our children.
- Source (link is to video)
He is also a member of the “Statist” stream within Fatah, which maintains that the institutions of the PA are the embryo of the future Palestinian state, and that Palestinian efforts should therefore focus on building up a strong central Authority, to whom all Palestinian armed forces are answerable (rather than to political factions), and which functions in accordance with its own laws and international obligations. From this perspective, the activities of armed factions operating outside of the aegis of the PA – in addition to being immoral in themselves when they target civilians – are counter-productive in that they sow chaos and lawlessness on the street, and actually make Palestinian independence more distant by empowering the Israeli rejectionist Right. (Though he has also pointed out that renunciation of political violence is a difficult case to sell to Palestinians who see that those who insist on diplomacy and legality are often the same parties who ignore and frustrate the implementation of U.N. resolutions, court rulings and international conventions which – if implemented – would give the Palestinians legal avenues to realize their aspirations).
Erekat was publicly criticized as naïve by Marwan Barghouti (Nov 2001), for his continuing rejection of the use of force in dealings with Israel. He is disliked also by Likud for his abrasiveness - has a history in particular with Netanyahu - though made close friends on the Israeli Left during the 90's. The LA Times summed up his public persona as “apt to see a gray lining in a silver cloud”, though off-duty he is reportedly quite engaging. Gilad Sher, his opposite number in the Barak administration, describes him:
Unlike other Palestinian leaders, Erekat is not characterized by any of the common symbols of status. He did not belong to the old guard of the PLO, for example, nor did he participate in armed struggle, a clear disadvantage when vying for a position of leadership among the Palestinians. But his eloquence, fluent English, and love affair with the world’s media, have put him on the international center stage, where Erekat is identified as much if not more than others with the Palestinian national struggle. In 1986, what Israel considered inflammatory material was discovered in Erekat’s office at A-Najah University. He was subsequently arrested a number of times for his activities in Fatah.
Erekat is a man of peace, a democrat and a liberal who believes peace has to be made between people, rather than between governments. He is an experienced, tough and shrewd negotiator, with a phenomenal memory. He does not hesitate to raise his voice and stomp his feet when necessary. In an effort to stall, he can be the most meticulous, petty and even irritating person; while, in an effort to advance, he will bypass all the mines he himself had laid. Of all the members of the Palestinian leadership, Erekat experienced the most substantial transformation of thought – from defiantly donning the famous kaffiah during the 1991 Madrid Conference; through promoting the democratic process in Palestinian elections and fighting corruption; to investing all his time and effort in the peace process. His dedication and commitment to the peace process throughout the years translated in hours of tedious negotiations and drafting sessions.
- Within Reach: The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations, 1999-2001 by Gilead Sher; Routledge, 1st Edition (Jan 2006), page 6.
Erekat has continued to emphasize the importance to I/P peacemaking of person-to-person dialogue - like the programs he once instigated at an-Najah – maintaining that the real faultline in the conflict is not between Palestinians and Israelis, but between those on both sides who will accept a negotiated peace, and those who won’t. He led the PA’s outreach program to find common ground with Israel’s large Russian immigrant population, and supported the One Voice initiative to mobilize grassroots support for a two-state solution among young Palestinians and Israelis. Sits on the board of directors of Seeds of Peace, a U.S.-based non-profit program that promotes tolerance by teaching teenagers from regions of conflict the skills of making peace. He is a regular speaker at Seeds events in the U.S. and Occupied Territories, and three of his children are graduates of the program. His underlying logic is that more than any other conflict, the I/P conflict can be resolved only by making peace between people, rather than between their governments:
This is a unique conflict. This is not the borders of Ecuador and Peru, of Canada and the United States, the merger of banks. These are the issues that make Palestinians and Israelis breathe. These are the issues of gods and prophets. There is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Wailing Wall, where people of three faiths go with their hearts and souls. Nothing in life is more important to these people than these things…
Making peace here is not about signing an agreement -- it’s about agreeing to change, to change their minds, the way they think. Peace-making between Palestinians and Israelis is going to take a new way of life, a new way of thinking, a new way of educating, a new way of planting, a new way of cooperating.
So to those who say, “What did 10 years [of negotiating] bring us?”…… What can 10 years do with a system of belief that for some people is 5,700 years, for others 2,000 years, for Muslims some 1,600 years? In 10 years, we have come a long way.
- Interview with Kate Seelye; PBS Frontline, March 2006. [edited for clarity]
Erekat is confident the two-state solution will be achieved, because – despite the rhetoric from all sides about why peace is impossible - the absence of an Arab-Israeli settlement is too destructive to the vital national interests of all the major players for them to continue evading it. (This includes the Palestinians, whose primary interests for Erekat would be normality and modernity in an independent sovereign state). He is convinced there will be no solution without active and committed US intervention; though this will require an administration that understands the U.S. has wider interests in the region than those acceptable to internal lobbyists, and acts accordingly:
You know, I don't think politics and interests are about love and hate relations… and so on. Nations, like individuals, follow their interests, and today the US borders are no longer with Mexico and Canada. They today have borders with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Gulf, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and go down to Pakistan, and China… I really hope that the U.S. will stop seeing the Middle East and the Palestinian situation and question in the eyes of who is the PM of Israel.
- Press Conference; Palestine Center, 24 Jun 2004.
Similarly, Israel’s fundamental national interests – a secure, Jewish-majority state within recognised borders, and an end to territorial claims and conflict with its regional neighbors – are achievable only through a two-state solution that is freely agreed to by the Palestinians. But since 2001, successive Israeli governments have refused meaningful (i.e. final status) negotiations because they mistakenly believe that military superiority will allow them to hold on to more (specifically, the Jordan Valley and all of Jerusalem) than they could keep in a compromise solution:
Is Israel seeking a Palestinian partner? Or are they seeking a nonpartner to accept their policies as faits accomplis? C’mon … These people aren’t serious about permanent status negotiations or end game. They want to dictate my future on me. They want to dictate their borders on me. They want to dictate the fate of Jerusalem on me. “C’mere, boy, this is what we dictated to you and this is what you must accept. If you don’t accept, you can join bin Laden and the rest of the terrorists in the world. If you accept, then you become a partner.”
Well, it’s not going to work this way. I don’t have a neon sign saying “stupid” over my head.
- Interview with Kate Seelye; PBS Frontline, March 2006.
Erekat maintains that this reliance on unilateralism might be a useful short-term tactic to achieve narrow territorial aims, but actually acts against Israel’s strategic interests. It undermines the very people that Israel needs if it is ever to have the negotiated peace that is its only bridge to security and acceptance in the region, and replaces them with a fragmented and lawless society, which will be a breeding ground for radicalism and extremism, right on Israel’s doorstep. And it empowers those who will never give Israel what it needs, by sending Palestinians the message that Israel does not respond to negotiation, only to violence:
I went to see members of the Israeli government asking them to make the PLO a partner to the disengagement plan as part of negotiations, as part of a peace process between the PLO and the Israeli government, because if you don’t do this Hamas and Islamic Jihad will claim they got you out like Hezbollah got you out from South Lebanon – [by] kicking you in the ass. Israel has failed to weigh the consequences of its actions in not negotiating with us…
- Shalom On Pullout; totallyjewish.com, Aug 2005.
Erekat notes that, ironically, an Israeli govt led by unilateralists and a PA govt led by Hamas serve each other very well. They provide each other with the “non-partner for peace” they both need to disguise the fact that they themselves are not ready for final status talks, but believe instead they can eventually prevail by force. Erekat rejects the idea that time is working in favor of either party; maintaining that leaving the Middle East’s most emotive conflict unresolved is simply fueling a regional descent into chaos and extremism that will leave everyone – Israelis and Palestinians alike – in “a new dark age”.
Argues strongly, e.g. at the WEF Forum of May 2007, that with rising religious extremism and an apparent nuclear arms race facing the Middle East, it is time to stop stalling on resolving the region’s primary source of instability:
When Arafat was alive, the Israelis said he was "not a partner." When Abbas became leader with Arafat's death, he was considered "irrelevant." Now the Israelis can't negotiate because Hamas is there. They are seeking a pretext to blame it on us. Address the real issue, which is the occupation which has lasted 40 years…
As there is widespread consensus on the centrality of the I/P conflict, and on what the contours of a peace settlement will look like, it is no longer the time for (President Bush’s) “visions” of how a two state solution on the 1967 borders will look, but for implementing instead the mechanisms that will actually bring it about. In response to the objection that current leaders are too politically “weak” to tackle such controversial issues, Erekat maintains that this gets the underlying logic of the situation backwards: it is futile to wait for strong leaders to emerge before tackling final status, as it is the precisely the repeated postponement of talks on the core issues, and settling instead for damage control and crisis management, that has produced on both sides weak government leaders and progressively stronger rejectionist movements. Nothing will strengthen a “weak” Olmert and a “weak” Abbas more than good-faith, productive peace talks. The only question is whether there exists the political will to make the difficult compromises upon which a two state solution to the I/P conflict will be based:
"It's not negotiating time, it's decision time. Israel is Israel on the 1967 borders, Palestine is Palestine, minus and plus agreed-upon swaps, minus and plus security arrangements, with a third party role [to stabilize any deal]”. – NY Times, 4 May 2007.
Married with 4 children. Wife: Na’imah; children: Salam and Dalal (21 year old twin daughters); Salam is a surgeon and Dalal a political science post-grad; sons Ali (16), and Mohammed, (12)**. A nephew, Nasr Ereiqat, was killed in the "Prisoners' Intifada" of 1997-98. A niece, Noura Erakat, was national grassroots organizer for the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.
**Ages are correct as at Jan 2004
- When I say I am a moderate, I mean that a just peace can be achieved between Israelis and Palestinians that will include security, independence and dignity for both sides. Unfortunately, today when Israel thinks of a Palestinian 'moderate' it thinks of someone who sees only through its eyes, hears only through its ears and speaks only through its mouth. (Aug 1987).
- I was convicted on the basis of what was in my conscience. So to whom do I appeal my conscience? (on his 1987 conviction; cited by Eric Goldstein, Journalism Under Occupation: Israel's Regulation of the Palestinian Press, art 19, pg 102; 1988).
- We [Palestinians] have never felt so close, never felt this sense of identity or pride or this feeling of oneness. What the Israelis are doing now will not bring us to surrender. Four months ago we were ignored by everyone, and now we have moved the world. (Arab Uprising: Drawing the Populations Into War; WaPo, 20 Mar 1988).
- The uprising is a message to the Israelis, the Americans and the Arabs: We don't want to become Israeli. We are not a minority but a people, and therefore we demand our right to self-determination. (Israel Turns 40 Amid Troubles; Los Angeles Daily News, 17 Apr 1988).
- Time in the West Bank and Gaza is not measured in terms of days but in the numbers of dead and wounded. When the Americans ask us for restraint, they ask us to die alone. (Escalation Appeals To Palestinian Hard-liners; Miami Herald, 4 Apr 1989)
- We [Palestinians] don't have the power to impose a solution that we want, but we do have the power to prevent a solution that we don’t want. (Cited Geoffrey Aronson, Full Steam Ahead In The West Bank, JPS 1991).
- The time has come for the Israelis to build strong ladders to come down from the trees they have climbed with their political blindness and arrogance of power. The main ladder is the establishment of a Palestinian state on every inch of land that was occupied in June 1967, and that will happen. (Aug 1999).
- I respected Rabin so much. He was a Prime Minister who was thinking of Israel's interests 200 years from today. Later Israeli Prime Ministers only care about the … nine o'clock news. (Jan 2002).
- So far, I'm still a Palestinian, so I don't know why Israelis react one way or another. Sometimes, the Israelis sound to me like a group of cats outside my window. When they scream, I don't know whether they're making love or fighting. Many times it confuses me. Sometimes I expect something logically to happen and it doesn't happen. So sometimes you stop expecting anymore. (Jan 2002).
- Some people in Israel believe it's a historic opportunity for them, that they will lower Palestinian people's expectations and the Palestinians will accept a long-term interim solution in a Gaza prison and 40% of the West Bank, without Jerusalem, settlements, borders being discussed. This will not happen. They may have the power to storm my hometown Jericho 20 times; I cannot stop them. They may have the power to hit missiles in Rafah; they may have the power and the support to demolish hundreds of homes and make thousands of people homeless, but they will never have the power to force a pen in any Palestinian hand to sign something that is not consistent with the interests and aspirations of the Palestinian people. (Jun 2004).
- Palestinians recognise the right of the state of Israel to exist and I reject [Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s] comments. What we need to be talking about is adding the state of Palestine to the map and not wiping Israel from the map. (Oct 2005).
- If Israel does nothing, if Israel avoids negotiations using the fake excuse that they have no negotiating partner, we Palestinians are fine. We will just wait. Our population is growing faster than theirs, and when we are the majority, we will simply vote our will in a democratic state. (Dec 2005).
- They were negotiating water, for instance, and we were talking about how the settlers take 120 million cubic meters annually compared to 30 million cubic meters [for the Palestinians]... One Israeli negotiator spontaneously said, ‘But we take showers every day’. We saw the embarrassment on the faces of his colleagues. (Jan 2006).
- They really feel that [due to] religion and history … the River Jordan to the Mediterranean should be the land of Israel -- fine! But I want to be an equal citizen, with an equal vote. And they say, “Oh, look at these evil Palestinians. They want to undermine the Jewish nature of Israel!” Well, make up your mind. I’m offering you a two-state solution and you’re saying no. (Mar 2006)
- I was 12-years old when the occupation came about. I'm a father of four children now. My twin daughters will be married next month. I would hate to be a grandfather under occupation. (Jun 2007).
Speeches and Writings available online
- Camp David: A Story of Success; Washington Post, 5 August 2000.
- What We Want; Washington Post, 8 November 2000.
- Saving the Two-State Solution; New York Times, 20 December 2002.
- Keep Talking; The Guardian, 19 January 2002. (Co-authored with Yossi Beilin).
- The Saudi Initiative: A Very Courageous Step; Bitterlemons.org; 4 March 2002.
- Israel is Blocking the Road to Peace;The Financial Times, 12 January 2003.
- Road Map must show the way to Real Peace; The Financial Times, 16 March 2003.
- US Policy is Alienating Arabs; BBC Online, 13 June 2003.
- The Quartet Is Disappearing; Bitterlemons.org, 17 July 2003.
- Gaza Remains Occupied; Bitterlemons.org, 22 August 2005.
- Israel’s ‘Bypass Diplomacy’ Cannot Bring Peace; The Financial Times, 10 November 2005.
- Third Parties, Don’t Leave Us Now; International Herald Tribune, 25 November 2005.
- What the P.L.O. Has to Offer; New York Times, 1 March 2006.
- An Offer That Cannot Be Refused; Ha’aretz, 5 June 2007.
- Thinking Outside The Box: Address to the Seeds of Peace negotiation summit; 20 Oct 2007.
- Israel's Step Back From Peace; Washington Post, 28 March 2009.
- Impasse In The Mideast; Washington Post, 28 October 2010.
- If Israel stalls peace, Palestinians have options; The National, 14 November, 2010.
- The Returning Issue Of Palestine's Refugees; The Guardian, 10 December 2010.
- The Palestine papers are a distraction from the real issue; The Guardian, 26 January 2011.
- Israel has to choose: Mideast peace or apartheid; Ha'aretz, 13 May 2011.
- Palestinians deserve Obama’s support in September; Financial Times, 19 Jun 2011.
- The moment of truth; Jerusalem Post, 12 November 2011.
- Sixty-Five Years Of Impunity; Ma'an News Agency, 14 May 2013.
- A Dim Light at the End of the Tunnel? What to Expect as Permanent Status Nears; briefing at the Palestine Center in Washington DC on 19 Jan 2000.
- (Video) Interview with Charlie Rose, on whether negotiations over the Golan will impede the I/P track; 19 Jan 2000.
- Shattered Dreams of Peace: Series of interviews for PBS Frontline; concluding Nov 2006.
- A transcript of a frank and informal briefing, delivered to the Israeli & Palestinian Business Leaders Forum at the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development on 30 January 2002, is available here.
- A ‘Lose-Lose’ Situation: Crisis Management without Progress Towards a Solution; a briefing delivered at the Palestine Center in Washington D.C., 7 August 2002.
- (Video) Panel Discussion with Charlie Rose, on the Bush administration's Middle East policy; 7 Aug 2002.
- A 16 March 2003 interview with the Palestine-Israel Journal, on prospects for the Road Map, the role of the U.S. in the region, and the Sharon government’s hijacking of 9/11: The Road Map will Stand.
- Video and transcript of a 30-minute interview with the BBC's Paul Reynolds (in June 2003), on the subject of the Road Map, is available at BBC News Online. Additionally, a speech he gave on the subject of the Road Map to the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) is available online here.
- Video Interview with Netherlands TV on the failure of the peace process, 17 December 2003. (In English with Dutch intro).
- An interview on the current state of the peace process, conducted at the conclusion of Italy's EU presidency (i.e. 31 Dec 2003), with English translation here.
- A transcript of a press briefing at the Palestine Center in Washington DC, following talks with Secretary of State Colin Powell on 24 June 2004.
- Negotiating Peace; video of a BBC HARDtalk interview with James Rubin, 21 December 2004.
- Finish with Armed Factions: An interview with Le Nouvel Observateur on the prospects for the resumption of negotiations following the election of Abu Mazen to the PA Presidency; 14 Jan 2005.
- Q & A WITH SAEB EREKAT: Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat answers Jerusalem Post readers' questions; 30 May 2005.
- Return Quickly to Negotiations; interview with Ma’ariv online, on the prospects for the day after the disengagement from Gaza, 5 Aug 2005. (and in English, here).
- Elections and Their Impact on Negotiations - Transcript of a briefing given by Dr. Saeb Erekat on 29 November 2005 at the Palestine Center in Washington, DC. (Link is to PDF file).
- A Message to Olmert (in Hebrew), and in English; interview with Akiva Eldar, for Ha’aretz, 13 Jan 2006. Dr. Saeb Erekat is the only Palestinian who has accompanied the peace process, and the six Israeli prime ministers who have been in power, from the 1991 Madrid Conference to this very day. These are his impressions of the six…
- Let Them Govern, But Without Us – Reaction to Hamas’ victory in the PLC elections, 30 Jan 2006.
- Q & A WITH SAEB EREKAT: Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat answers Jerusalem Post readers' questions; 1 Feb 2006.
- Inside Hamas: Interview with Kate Seelye for PBS Frontline; March 2006.
- Is there anything left to negotiate about?; video of a BBC HARDtalk interview with Stephen Sackur, 19 July 2006.
- (Video) Peace In Pieces: Debate at the World Economic Forum in Jordan; 20 May 2007.
- Interview with America Abroad Media, on the centrality of the Palestinian question in current Middle East instability, 14 Jan 2007.
- Gaza: Reversing the descent into anarchy; video of a BBC HARDtalk interview with Stephen Sackur, 29 May 2007.
- The Role of the International Community; panel discussion with Daniel Kurtzer and Shlomo Ben-Ami at the Notre Dame Ctr, Jerusalem, 28 Jun 2007.
- (Video) Interview with David Frost, for al-Jazeera English, 27 Sept 2007.
- Palestinian Negotiator Details 'Critical' Moment for Mideast: Interview with Gwen Ifill for PBS Newshour; 28 Nov 2007.
- After Annapolis: Prospects for Peacemaking (Transcript w/video): Panel discussion at the Brookings Institution, Washington DC; 28 Nov 2007.
- Five Months After Annapolis: Where Are We Headed?: Address to The Jerusalem Fund, 25 April 2008.
- (Video, 8mins) Excerpts of a panel discussion on prospects for peace at Tel Aviv University, 18 August 2008.
- "My Job is to Save Lives"; interview with Matias Zibell for BBC World (in Spanish); 2 Sept 2008.
- Does the crisis in Gaza signal the end of the Middle East peace process?; video of a BBC HARDtalk interview with Zeinab Badawi, 13 Jan 2009.
- Interview with Congressman Keith Ellison, during the fact-finding mission to the Occupied Territories by Ellison and his Congressional colleague, Brian Baird; 19 Feb 2009.
- Israeli-Palestinian Relations Forum; discussion with Avi Gil, former Director-General of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at Manhattanville College, NY; 19 Mar 2009. View the (Quicktime) video here.
- The New Israeli Government, Palestinian Reconciliation, and Prospects for Peace after the Gaza War; an address to the Brookings Doha Center, 31 Mar 2009. (summary here; full transcript is PDF).
- The Peace process: Where To? : Saeb Erekat gives the annual graduate lecture to the University of Birmingham's Department of Political Science and International Studies, 25 Mar 2010. (Video link, in 11 parts 90 mins total).
- A Conversation With Saeb Erakat (video); Hosted by Aaron Miller at the Woodrow Wilson Center, 4 Nov 2010.
- Israeli-Palestinian peace in US, UN hands; Euronews, 25 Nov 2010.
- The Peace Processor; Interview with Aaron David Miller, Foreign Policy, 5 Feb 2012.
Articles Requiring Subscription
- West Bank Professor Convicted of Incitement; by Thomas L. Friedman. New York Times, 7 April 1987. Lead: A leading Palestinian academic was found guilty of incitement today by an Israeli military court for writing in an English-language newsletter of a West Bank university that Palestinians should reject and resist the Israeli occupation. The Palestinian, Prof. Saeb Erakat, faces a maximum sentence of three years' imprisonment...
- Israel-Jordan Alliance Quietly Taking Root on the West Bank; by Thomas L. Friedman. NY Times, 9 August 1987. Lead: Few Israelis have ever heard of Saeb Erakat, a West Bank Palestinian who has never been considered dangerous enough to grab many headlines here. But his story speaks volumes about the state of Israeli-Palestinian relations and the uncertain prospects for eventual negotiations...
- Paradise Ahead?; by Ben Lynfield. Jerusalem Post, 24 October 1990.
- War Will Unleash The Iranian Genie; by Saeb Erekat. JPost, 25 November 1990.
- For the Palestinians, New Faces and a Measure of Legitimacy; by Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, 3 November 1991.
- A Setback To MidEast Talks; Request For Delay Came Amid Death Threats; by Carol Morello. Philadelphia Inquirer, 19 April 1993.
- A Bumpy Return Trip Home May Await Palestinian Negotiators; by Lamia Lahoud. JPost, 23 April 1993.
- Eight Held For Threatening Peace Talks Delegate; by Michael Rotem. JPost, 2 May 1993. EIGHT Hamas activists suspected of breaking into the house of Palestinian peace talks delegate Dr. Saeb Erekat and threatening his life were arrested over the weekend in Jericho, army sources said...
- Palestinian Women Aim To Get Their Due; by Andrea Barron. JPost, 28 Jan 1994.
- Paying A High Price For Honor; by Mary Curtius. LA Times, 12 Mar 1995.
- Palestinians Lose Faith In U.S. As A Force For Peace; by Marjorie Miller. LA Times, 28 Apr 1997.
- Getting To Know You; by Lili Galili. Ha’aretz, 29 Aug 1999. The Palestinian Authority has launched a campaign aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the Russian immigrants...
- From The Streets To Knesset Seats; We are All Prisoners Of History; by Yoram Bronowski. Ha’aretz, 14 Jul 2000. [W]e have forgotten that on the other side of this country's future border there are human beings just like us, who suffer, as we do, from the ravages of time and place. That is the reason for the importance, and also the effectiveness, I think, of the moving remarks of Dr. Saeb Erekat, a senior official of the Palestinian Authority, who spoke to Motti Kirschenbaum – a TV reporter par excellence - about the mood among the Palestinians on the eve of the Camp David summit. For the bulk of the interview, Kirschenbaum simply let Erekat talk. He was looking straight at Kirschenbaum, but the passionate, human, plain-spoken words were directed at Israelis wherever they may be - those who are forever contemplating their own navel ("You are always quarreling among yourselves") and endlessly going on about their own suffering, greatness and achievements. With great rhetorical skill, in clear English that even high school students could understand (we hope), Erekat spoke about how sick he was of negotiating over matters that were self-evident, and how tired he was of border checks and having to pull out his papers for every soldier ("Some officers are nice, others less so, but they all have to show that they are the bosses"). Erekat has had his fill of the eternal mistrust, the utter lack of compassion, the constant denial of the humanity of those whom Israelis have never stopped seeing as their enemies. "When you hear the word 'Palestinians,' something happens to you. You find it impossible to grasp that we are human beings like you." Erekat scoffs at the idea of Jewish enclaves in Judea and Samaria, and explains something that should be self-understood: We are being sold ridiculous slogans that have no substance and never should have. Jewish enclaves are a recipe for trouble, for a nightmare that will never end…
- Roots Of Israel’s Malaise Deeper Than Recent War; by Roger Cohen. NY Times, 4 May 2007.
Other Biographical Info Online
- The Wall Street Journal profiled Erekat as a potential future Palestinian President in Leader in Peace Talks Brings New Style to Palestinian Politics, 22 Jan 1998.
- AFP prepared an online biography on his resignation from the PA Cabinet in May 2003, as did BBC News Online on the occasion of his reinstatement the following September.
- SFSU Magazine online profiled its alumnus in its Fall/Winter 2003 edition.
This page last updated: 26 Jan 2011
Corrections? Additions? E-Mail me at dianemason45_at_gmail.com
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صئب عريقات סאיב עריקאת Sa'ib `Urayqat Erakat Erikat Arikat Ariqat Arakat Araqat Eriqat ‘Urayqat Oreikat Orikat Oraikat Ureikat Ereikat Eraikat Areikat Irikat Irakat Iriqat סאאב עריקאת