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May 16, 2003

Profile: Saeb Erekat

Saeb Erekat, who is reported to have resigned from the Palestinian cabinet, has been at the centre of negotiations with Israel for the better part of a decade.

He was involved in crafting the Oslo accords in 1995, and since 1996 he has been the Palestinians' chief negotiator.

The Jerusalem Report's diplomatic correspondent, Leslie Susser, described Mr Erekat as "intelligent and an effective spokesman".

But, he added, Mr Erekat was "very much someone who does Yasser Arafat's bidding".

His position has been uncertain since Palestinian leader Arafat yielded to international pressure to appoint a prime minister with the power to name his own cabinet.

He may have become a pawn in a struggle for control between Mr Arafat and the man he appointed, Mahmoud Abbas - also known as Abu Mazen.

Mr Erekat is an Arafat loyalist and was left out of some draft versions of the cabinet put together by Abu Mazen.

When the cabinet was finally approved in April, it did include a position for Mr Erekat as minister for negotiations.

But Mr Erekat was not scheduled to be part of the Palestinian delegation - headed by Abu Mazen - which is to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Saturday.

The meeting will be the highest-level public contact between the Israelis and Palestinians in years.

Abu Mazen - who controlled the Palestinian side of the Oslo process - may be signalling that he is in charge, the Jerusalem Report's Mr Susser told BBC News Online.

University work

Mr Erekat was born in Jerusalem in 1955, and went on to earn degrees from the University of San Francisco in the US and the University of Bradford in the UK.

After gaining his doctorate in peace studies at Bradford, he became a lecturer in political science at An-Najan University in the West Bank town of Nablus.

He served on the editorial board of the Palestinian daily newspaper al-Quds for 12 years.

There has been talk of his quitting or being fired before, including in 1998, but he has always been persuaded to stay on.

Abu Mazen has reportedly asked for a week to consider Mr Erekat's resignation, so there may be a change of heart this time as well.