Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks during a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah January 2, 2012..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat was greeted by well-wishers in Virginia over the weekend.
Erekat, well-known to American and Israeli officials, is suffering from pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease. He hopes to undergo a lung transplant in the US to save his life, but is still awaiting suitable donor lungs.
PA Ambassador to the US Husam Zomlot and Member of Knesset Ahmad Tibi visited Erekat on Saturday at an undisclosed location in Virginia. Both said that they hope Erekat will return to the Palestinian territories as a healthy man.
Erekat said on Saturday that his well-wishers are giving him the strength to breathe.
“Your love has become the oxygen that I breathe,” he said in a statement posted on his eldest son Ali’s Facebook page.
On Thursday, Erekat spoke about his illness on camera for the first time in an interview with official Palestinian Authority television.
“My lungs have been broken,” Erekat said while connected to oxygen. “Five months ago, my condition started to deteriorate substantially. I need oxygen and walking has become very difficult for me.”
Despite his illness, Erekat has worked for most of the past five months, attending many of his regular duties and meeting with diplomats.
Erekat also talked about his pride in being a part of the Palestinian people.
“God gave us the honor and dignity to be the soldiers of Palestine,” he stated. “I am constantly proud that for 62 years I was a soldier for Palestine… Be completely confident that achieving full independence for the state of Palestine is inevitably on its way. The state of Palestine along 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital is coming.”
Erekat has long held that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be solved by peaceful means
. He was one of the first Palestinian leaders to participate in dialogues with Israelis in the early 1980s and served as advisers to both former Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and current PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
In the interview with PA television, Erekat also defended Abbas’s record in negotiations with Israel, contending that the PA president has held firmly onto a vision of establishing an independent and sovereign Palestinian state along 1967 borders.
Erekat has consistently defended Abbas and his policy decisions. Before his illness, he frequently traveled with Abbas.
“What we have in terms of Abu Mazen is a great fortune,” Erekat said, referring to Abbas by his other commonly known name.