Palestinian Official Saeb Erekat Dead at 65: Negotiated Peace, Supported Terror, Spread Jenin Libel

Saeb Erekat and Joe Biden (Abbas Momani / AFP / Getty)
Abbas Momani / AFP / Getty

The death of senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat from COVID-19 on Tuesday coincided with the 18th anniversary of the murder of five Israelis.

The terrorist responsible for the attack has so far received more than a quarter of a million dollars as part of the Palestinian Authority’s so-called “pay-for-slay” scheme, of which Erekat was a staunch supporter.

President Donald Trump and Congress cut off aid to the Palestinians over the program, but Joe Biden has made it clear that if elected, he will seek to restore ties with the Palestinians, financial and diplomatic, to the extent possible.

As many in the international community, and even in Israel, mourn Erekat’s death, others have been quick to point out that behind Erekat’s eloquent CNN interviews and ostensible overtures towards peace-building, ultimately he did little to curb terrorism in the Palestinian arena.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday afternoon declared three days of mourning for the late negotiator, saying his death “represents a great loss for Palestine and our people … especially in light of the difficult circumstances facing the Palestinian cause.”

Former U.S. envoy to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under the Obama administration lauded Erekat’s “commitment to pursuing freedom for your people by peaceful means.”

The most recent peace envoy under the Trump administration, Jason Greenblatt, took a more cautious approach, tweeting that while the two were “worlds apart in our views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s history and how to resolve it … he tried hard to represent his people.”

The left-wing J Street group said it was “deeply saddened” by his passing, and that he dedicated his life to pursuing peace.

Senior Breitbart editor-at-large Joel Pollak responded to J Street, tweeting that Erekat “did not pursue peace but cultivated hate and mistrust.”

One of the most prominent Palestinian politicians, Erekat led several rounds of peace negotiations over the last few decades, including those that led to the doomed 1995 Oslo Accords. He was extremely close to later PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, and considered one of his most trusted advisors.

For many Israelis, Erekat cut a controversial figure. He charged Israel with “war crimes,” “massacres,” “genocide” and accused it of apartheid. He targeted Gulf states over their recent U.S.-brokered normalization deals with Israel, calling them Zionist Arabs.

Erekat notoriously instigated a false 2002 report accusing the Israeli army of massacring 500 Palestinians in the West Bank town of Jenin. More recently, he compared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State terror group.

Erekat also helmed the failed talks at Camp David in 2000 and Taba in early January 2001, which was followed by the Second Intifada, a Palestinian uprising which saw hundreds of terror attacks against Israelis for a number of years.

In 2015, Erekat visited the home of a terrorist killed by Israeli forces while he carried out a shooting attack. Palestinian media reported that during the condolence call, Erekat emphasized the Palestinians’ so-called “right to resist” Israel until they achieve their own state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the time that instead of condemning the attacks, Erekat praised the assailants, which “gives backing and encouragement to acts of terror.”

Erekat also sent a “humanitarian letter” to the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group, Ahmad Sa’adat, expressing his fondness for the terror chief, who is now in an Israeli jail for planning an assassination of an Israeli politician.

“Israelis who express sorrow over the death of an anti-Semitic terror-supporter who was one of the leaders of the fight against Israel are beyond belief,” said Betzalel Smotrich, a rightwing lawmaker from the Yamina party. “[It is] a sad moral distortion,” Smotrich said according to a translation of his Hebrew-language remarks by the Times of Israel.

Smotrich slammed Israeli officials who cooperated with Erekat while he “played a double game, continuing to fuel terrorism against Israeli citizens.”

Many rightwing officials also criticized Israel for treating Erekat in an Israeli hospital.

Netanyahu’s son Yair called him a “terrorist who worked for the destruction of Israel.”

The left-wing Meretz party released a statement saying that Erekat had “worked all his life for peace, supported the two-state solution and opposed violence. We now must continue in his path toward just peace and the end of the conflict.”

Former Meretz leader Zehava Galon said Erekat had “harbored anger, no doubt, but alongside it was a staunch belief in the possibility of coexistence between the Jordan River and the [Mediterranean] Sea.”

The Peace Now left-wing group said it was “a sad day for all supporters of peace in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We shall remember his dedication for the vision of peace and the two-state solution.”

The United Nations’ envoy for the Middle East peace process Nickolay Mladenov tweeted: “I extend my deepest condolences to the family of #SaebErekat and the Palestinian people. You remained convinced that Israel and Palestine can live in peace; never gave up on negotiations; and stood proudly for your people! We will miss you, my friend. May you rest in peace!”

Both Israel and the U.S. blocked monies from the PA over the pay-for-slay scheme. US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who authored the Taylor Force Act that prevents the US from providing economic assistance as long as the terror policy exists, met with Erekat in July 2019 in a bid to persuade Ramallah to stop the scheme, but to no avail.

Abbas has vowed to keep paying the salaries, which the PA’s Finance Ministry reported reaches roughly NIS 100 million per month to around 35,000 terrorist prisoners and their families.

Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammed Shtayyah said that if the Palestinians agreed to stop paying terrorists, “the PA will be subject to lawsuits in the Israeli, international, and American courts for funding terror.”

Muhammad Naifeh, a member of Abbas’ Fatah party, was the terrorist behind the murder of five Israelis from Kibbutz Metzer on November 10, 2002. Among those murdered were Revital Ohayun and her two children, five-year-old Matan and four-year-old Noam.

Naifeh also masterminded several other attacks on Israelis. He is currently serving 13 life sentences in an Israeli jail. According to monitoring group Palestinian Media Watch, Naifeh and his family have so far received $264,358 in rewards. Every month, the PA pays him another 7,400 NIS ($2,187), which is far higher than the average Palestinian salary. The longer he spends in prison, the the higher the salary, with Naifeh set to receive 12,400 NIS ($3,665) per month – a salary equivalent to that of a senior minister in the PA government.

Days before the election, apparent vice president-elect Kamala Harris told The Arab American News that under a Joe Biden administration, the U.S. will work to restore ties with the Palestinians which the latter severed under the Trump administration.

Harris said Biden will reopen the Palestinians diplomatic mission in Washington and renew humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians.

Abbas was reported to have been holding secret talks with Biden in recent weeks in the hope that he would defeat Trump.

On Sunday he called on self-proclaimed president-elect to “strengthen the Palestinian-American relationship,” and was cited by a senior source as seeking the reversal of the U.S. embassy move by the incoming administration.

Close Abbas aide Nabil Shaath hailed the end of the Trump administration.

“There has never been anything worse than the Trump era. Salvation from it is an achievement,” Shaath said.

Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi celebrated what she called a “detrumped” United States.

“Trumpism must be carefully scrutinized & remedied to restore the human, moral & legal equilibrium within and beyond the U.S.. Such phenomena do not emerge from a vacuum,” she said.


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