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Erekat, Saib Muhammad (Erakat, Arakat; 1955–)

EREKAT, SAIB MUHAMMAD (Erakat, Arakat; 1955–)

Palestinian activist and negotiator, born in Jericho. Saib Erekat earned a degree in political science at San Francisco State University in the United States and a Ph.D. at Bradford College in Great Britain. A professor at al-Najah University of Nablus, on the West Bank, he was also in charge of public relations there between 1982 and 1986. He has been an editorialist for the daily al-Quds since 1982 and has published several works on the Palestinian question. He is close to al-Fatah and has backed the political line of the Palestine Liberation Organization. He was vice-chair of the Palestinian delegation led by Haydar Abd al-Shafi to the Madrid peace conference in 1991. His involvement in various Israeli-Palestinian meetings only began in August 1992, because until then the Israelis would not accept him as a negotiator. He threatened to resign a year later, along with two other members of the Palestinian delegation, Faysal al-Husayni and Hanan Ashwari, to protest the Oslo Accords, which were negotiated without their knowledge. In January 1994 Erekat replaced al-Shafi as the head of the Palestinian delegation negotiating with Israel. At the end of the following May, as the Palestinian territories were becoming autonomous, he was named minister for local government in the Palestinian Authority (PA), led by Yasir Arafat, while retaining his responsibilities in the Palestinian commission in charge of negotiations with Israel. On 28 September 1995 he participated in signing the provisional Israeli-Palestinian accord on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (the second Oslo Accords).

Although he is close to Arafat, Erekat has spoken out against corruption in the PA and has fallen out with Arafat more than once. In 1999 Arafat dismissed him from the Wye Plantation negotiations; he was named negotiations minister in the cabinet of Mahmud Abbas when the latter became PA prime minister in 2003, but he resigned after two weeks, when he was excluded from meetings between Abbas and Ariel Sharon. Erekat has participated in a number of delegations charged with restarting peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, but with little result. He also participated, unofficially, in the discussions that over two years produced the Geneva Accord of November 2003. This unofficial agreement, negotiated with political figures of the Israeli left and endorsed by such international figures as former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, was meant to prod the PA, the Israeli government, and the United States into some constructive movement toward serious negotiations but met with a reception ranging from polite indifference in Washington to enraged condemnation in Israel, and gained little support among Palestinian political factions. In April 2004, shortly after President George W. Bush committed the United States to support the Sharon government's plan to evacuate Gaza while permanently incorporating Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Erekat published a commentary in the Washington Post, noting that "President Bush apparently has taken my job. . . . Israel is now negotiating peace with the United States—not with the Palestinians. . . . we are farther away from a permanent peace than we have ever been."

SEE ALSO Abbas, Mahmud Rida; Arafat, Yasir Muhammad; Ashrawi, Hanan Daouda; Fatah, al-; Geneva Peace Initiative of 2003; Husayni, Faysal al-; Oslo Accords; Oslo Accords II; Palestinian Authority; Palestine Liberation Organization; Quds, al-; Sharon, Ariel.

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