Saeb Erekat

Saeb Erekat

Academic & politician. PLC member (representing Jericho), member of the PLO Executive Committee and Fatah-Revolutionary Council; commonly referred to as Palestinian Chief Negotiator, though technically Head of PLO's Negotiations Affairs Department. Formerly Professor of Political Science at An-Najah National University, Nablus.

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. Educated from age three through twelve at Terra Sancta Roman Catholic School, Jericho. Israeli occupation began when he was twelve; first jailed at thirteen; usual childhood offences, stone-throwing, cutting wires, fighting with soldiers, PLO graffiti etc. Sent overseas to the U.S. to study at seventeen. Graduated from San Francisco State University BA (1977), MA (1979), both in International Relations. 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. 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.

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 Haifa; 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 international relations, conflict resolution, the geopolitics of oil, the democratization of the Middle East and redistribution of the region’s wealth. 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). Arrested again August 1986 (for authoring a magazine article, Palestinians Must Learn To Endure And Reject And Resist), accused of inciting sedition and “printing illegal literature”. At trial, argued in his own defense that promoting non-violent resistance did not qualify as sedition, but was convicted anyway by Israeli military court. Was under intermittent house arrest during early years of first intifada.

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. First time that Palestinians had directly addressed an Israeli (and Western audience). Turning point in Western perception of the PLO.

At first turned down an invitation from Arafat to serve on the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Conference on Middle East Peace, 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 for his insistence on wearing the hatta (kaffiyah), in public show of loyalty to Arafat: a show of defiance that did not endear him to the Israelis or to American delegates James Baker III and Dennis Ross, but earned him a hero’s welcome upon his return home to Jericho.

Joined Faisal Husseini and Hanan Ashrawi in resigning (8 August 1993) as delegates to Washington, complaining that the “inside” PLO was being excluded from decision-making by Arafat and the Tunis PLO. When Oslo was made public, the "inside" PLO regarded the accords as disastrous, 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.

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.

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. Lead negotiator at Wye River, Hebron, and Camp David (July 2000).

Served as Arafat's personal translator to English-speaking audiences, at Downing St, May 1998. Among bilinguals, gained a reputation 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.

Appointed by Arafat to Cabinet as PA Minister for Local Government in 1994.

Retained the Local Government portfolio until April 2003, when appointed Minister for Negotiations Affairs in the first cabinet of PM Abbas. Resigned 16 May 2003 from government possibly after falling out with Abu Mazen over his exclusion 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. Reinstated as Negotiations Minister by Abu Mazen, 4 September 03. 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.

Married with 4 children. Wife: Naim'ah; children: Salam and Dalal (21 year old twin daughters); Salam is a medical student and Dalal a political science post grad; sons Ali Saeb (16), and Mohammed, (12). Dalal and Ali are Seeds of Peace graduates; Dalal is an activist in the “One Voice” initiative

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