Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has died at 65 after he became infected with COVID-19. Erekat was a key Palestinian negotiator involved in peace talks for over three decades and stood in staunch opposition to the Trump administration’s Middle East plan, which he called the “fraud of the century,” and condemned recent agreements normalizing relations between Israel and Gulf nations. “One must really reflect and admire the tireless commitment he had to communicating the Palestinian cause as best he saw fit … and the important voice that he brought to the conversation at a time when many people around the world had not really heard from Palestinians, particularly Palestinians living in Palestine, on the ground,” says Palestinian American analyst Yousef Munayyer.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
The veteran Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has died at the age of 65 after he became infected with COVID-19. Erekat was a key Palestinian negotiator, involved in peace talks for over three decades. He famously showed up at the 1991 Madrid Conference proudly wearing a keffiyeh, a symbol of Palestinian nationalism. He stood in staunch opposition to Trump’s Middle East plan, which he called the “fraud of the century,” and condemned recent agreements normalizing relations between Israel and Gulf nations. This is Saeb Erekat speaking in 2018.
SAEB EREKAT: I think, as Palestinians, we have defined our interest, as no one benefits more from achieving peace than us, and nobody stands to lose more in the absence of peace more than us.
AMY GOODMAN: Erekat is survived by his wife, four children and eight grandchildren. The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called Erekat a “great fighter who had a great role in raising the banner of Palestine high and defending the rights of our people … in all international forums,” unquote. Abbas has declared three days of mourning in Palestinian Authority-ruled areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
For more, we’re joined by Yousef Munayyer, the Palestinian American analyst, senior nonresident fellow at the Arab Center Washington DC.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Yousef. Can you talk about the significance of the death of Saeb Erekat of COVID-19 — he lived in the West Bank; he had had a lung transplant here in the United States in, what, 2017, was extremely vulnerable — and the loss of what it means politically?
YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Yeah. Good morning, Amy. And thank you for having me on.
Let me just begin by extending my condolences to the entire Erekat family, who lost Dr. Saeb Erekat today at the age of 65 after losing a very difficult battle with COVID. As you noted, he’s had a previous lung transplant and was obviously in a very difficult condition to try to fight off this virus.
You know, as I think about the life and contributions of Saeb Erekat, I note that I and others certainly had differences with him in terms of political vision and strategy, but one must really reflect and admire the tireless commitment he had to communicating the Palestinian cause as he best saw fit, and really reflect on the longevity of the career and the important voice that he brought to the conversation at a time when many people around the world had not really heard from Palestinians, particularly Palestinians living in Palestine, on the ground, effectively communicating about the Palestinian cause in the English language. You know, I note a important program that he was on as early as 1988 with ABC’s Ted Koppel at the time on Nightline doing a special on the situation on the ground in Palestine — of course, that time during the Intifada that was taking place, really gripping the world as it turned its eyes to Palestine for the first time in quite some time. And he, along with Hanan Ashrawi and others, represented this generation of Palestinian leaders, educators, intellectuals, civil society figures who were communicating the Palestinian cause to the world at a very, very important time. So, his passing, obviously, his career, in speaking for Palestinians and about Palestinians globally, only continued on from there. And I think this moment and his passing really represent something of a moment of transition from that generation and from that time.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Yousef, in terms of — it’s especially tragic that he passed from COVID. Could you talk about the situation in Palestine, in the West Bank and Gaza, in terms of the COVID pandemic?
YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Absolutely. You know, obviously, this is a disease — I know your last guest was on talking about the vaccine, and we all hope that there may be some light at the end of the tunnel here. But this is a virus that has impacted the entire world significantly. And on top of the challenges that countries around the world are facing in trying to combat this virus, Palestinians are doing that with the added layer of dealing with military occupation and the discriminatory policies of Israeli apartheid. And with a disease like COVID, which makes acute cases particularly difficult to treat even in the most advanced health infrastructure settings, as we’ve seen here in the United States with over 230,000 deaths now, Palestinians are at a particular disadvantage when cases especially get to that advanced stage. In the Gaza Strip, for example, they have a very small number of ventilators, very underequipped and underresourced ICU units. And so, the approach there and elsewhere throughout Palestine has really been to try to aggressively contain this through public health measures and through social distancing. And while there was, I think, some early success, we are seeing now a growing number of cases in Gaza and in the West Bank.
And I have to emphasize, again, the difficulty of trying to combat this virus with that added layer of military occupation and discrimination. You know, Palestinians often have to struggle to get the kind of access to healthcare that most people in Israel and here in the United States take for granted, because of the military occupation, because of the denial of freedom of movement and the restrictions, and so on. And, you know, the unfortunate reality is that most Palestinians are probably unlikely to be able to access the level of care that, thankfully, Dr. Erekat was able to access. But the reality of occupation means that those prospects are very much limited for the average Palestinian. And the military occupation, these policies of discrimination are a added comorbidity that most people around the world will not really be able to fully understand.
AMY GOODMAN: Yousef Munayyer, we want to thank you for being with us, Palestinian American analyst with the Arab Center Washington DC, on the news of the death of the Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat. He died of COVID-19.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, President Trump refuses to concede. Republicans are continuing to support him. Now the Justice Department has gotten involved, supporting President Trump. Stay with us.