Erekat was born on April 28, 1955, in the neighborhood of Abu Dis in Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem, just under seven years after the State of Israel declared its independence. He received his B.A. and M.A. in political science from San Francisco State University and completed his Ph.D. in peace and conflict studies at Bradford University in England.
In 1991, Erekat was deputy head of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Conference, and in 1994 he was appointed Minister for Local Government for the Palestinian Authority and also the Chairman of the Palestinian negotiation delegation. In 1995, Erekat served as Chief Negotiator for the PA during the Oslo peace process.
When Mahmoud Abbas was nominated to serve as Prime Minister of the Palestinian Legislative Council in early 2003, Erekat resigned as Minister of Negotiations after he was excluded from a delegation to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Erekat was later reappointed to his post and participated in the 2007 Annapolis Conference. He resigned from his post as chief negotiator again in February 2011, citing the release of the Palestine Papers; however, by the end of 2013, he was still holding the function.
Even as he maintained contacts with Israelis, he was a vociferous critic who also had a record of using his platform to spread misinformation and falsehoods through the media. Most notable was his spurious accusation that Israel committed a massacre at Jenin in 2002.
He also condemned policies adopted by the Trump administration and the normalization of relations with Israel by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. “I never expected this poison dagger to come from an Arab country,” Saeb Erekat complained after the UAE-Israel agreement was signed. “You are rewarding aggression. ... You have destroyed, with this move, any possibility of peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”
Erekat contracted Covid-19 and was hospitalized in Israel. He died of the illness on November 10, 2020.
Erekat was survived by a wife, twin daughters and two sons.
“What Really Happened in Jenin?” JCPA, (May 2, 2002).
“Palestinians Say UAE Deal Hinders Quest for Mideast Peace,” AP, (August 14, 2020).
Brian Murphy, “Saeb Erekat, Palestinian negotiator who shaped Arab-Israeli peace agreements, dies at 65,” Washington Post, (November 10, 2020).