“I meant to take Martin to the ruins to show him nothing lasts, and life goes on,” Mr. Erekat explained in an interview shortly after the talks collapsed. “These were great empires — they’re gone. I know that the Israeli occupation will go.”
Negotiators remembered Mr. Erekat as feisty and strong-willed. He would often react to a proposal that he thought unfair with one of his signature aphorisms: “I’m willing to limit my sovereignty but not my dignity” or, “I don’t walk around with a neon sign on my head saying ‘stupid.’”
“His negotiating style was to hold on to what cards he had because he had so few,” Mr. Indyk said. “But at heart he was deeply committed to the two-state solution.”
“Saeb was very dedicated to the cause,” said Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian political scientist who participated in the Madrid talks. Mr. Erekat, he said, had also worked to document the history of the peace process to learn its lessons.
“He became the Palestinian memory of this era,” Mr. Khatib said.
A loyal member of Fatah, the mainstream political faction led by Mr. Abbas, Mr. Erekat resigned several times from various positions to protest a policy or make a point, but always returned to the fold. In 2011, for instance, he resigned as chief negotiator after the Al Jazeera television network leaked details of Palestinian negotiating positions from a trove of confidential documents, embarrassing Mr. Erekat by suggesting that the Palestinians were prepared to make big concessions to the Israelis.
But he was back at the negotiating table by the next round of talks.
In 2015, he became secretary-general of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the umbrella group representing secular Palestinian factions. It was the second-highest post after the chairmanship, held by Mr. Abbas.
Throughout the process, the Israelis and Palestinians have accused each other of intransigence. But Mr. Erekat constantly sought engagement with the Israelis and formed deep friendships with several of his interlocutors.