It was a full moon night in the Egyptian town of Taba. The year 2001. The moonlight blessed the Shabbat dinner organized by the Israeli negotiators, led by the diplomat Shlomo Ben-Ami, and to which I had been invited to participate together with the Palestinian delegation.
Saeb Erekat and Abu Alaa chaired this delegation. The hope and enthusiasm for an Israeli-Palestinian peace was felt in the commitment and attitude shared by both delegations.
Saeb, my friend of the Palestinian soul, the tireless negotiator, authorized me together with his Israeli counterpart Gilead Sher to take note of the extraordinary advances to close a final agreement. This is what was called the “Taba Document.”
Today, with a sunrise very similar to the Madrid autumn, I am visited by the memory of the morning of October 29, 1991, when I met Saeb Erekat for the first time, 29 years ago, at the Madrid Peace Conference.
I write these broken lines as a tribute to this Palestinian who defied diplomatic protocol by wearing the kufiyya , at the Palacio de Oriente in Madrid. His gesture was not intended to be a challenge to provoke, he only wanted to reflect the dignity and pride he felt in defending his cause, the Palestinian cause, for the world.
To write about Saeb Erekat is to write about peace and negotiation. Hundreds of thousands of hours dedicated exclusively to achieving peace through diplomatic negotiation. Three concepts are inherent to the personality of this Palestinian from Jericho: peace, non-violence, and therefore negotiation and honesty.
Palestinian history has inscribed many leaders in its annals, but Saeb will undoubtedly occupy an exceptional place when it comes to counting the efforts, the will and the determination to reach a negotiated solution with his Israeli interlocutors and friends.
It would take a lot more time and space to be able to remember Saeb Erekat’s many contributions in the Middle East. Some Israeli friends, desperate for Saeb’s wit and dialectical ability, even went so far as to caricature him: “The negotiator who negotiates with himself,” they said of him.
His obsession and his vision was to be able to contribute to building a modern, democratic, just and moderate Palestine that could live in peace and security with Israel. He was also criticized at times for his stubbornness in defending in rigorous detail basic but essential principles in favor of Palestinian rights, without some understanding that he was doing so to more safely guarantee the sustainability of any agreement with Israel, and thus avoid unintended consequences. in the future.
Today is a sad day in Jericho, Palestine and the Middle East.
Today is a sad day for world diplomacy.
Today is a sad day for those who dream and work for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
But today is also a day of commitment for all his Israeli, Arab, European and North American friends to dedicate one last tribute to him, conjuring ourselves to do everything possible to achieve peace between Israel and Palestine.
The last time I saw him was in Ramallah in November of last year. We had lunch together and he told me in detail about his dangerous and complicated lung transplant operation. He confessed that he saw death, but wished with all his might to come back to life so that he could continue working to achieve peace for his compatriots.
I am sure that he will return again to finally celebrate that longed-for peace for which he worked so hard with the continued support of his beloved wife and children from the oldest city of mankind, beautiful Jericho.
Saeb, rest in peace, we will continue working for you to achieve your dreams of a Palestinian State that lives in peace and prosperity alongside Israel in the promised land.