Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has traveled to Washington and is waiting for a lung transplant after his health deteriorated in recent months.
In an interview broadcast Thursday on Palestinian national television, Erekat, who is secretary general of the PLO Executive Committee, gave what was seen as a farewell message to the Palestinian public.
Erekat appeared weak and struggling to breathe with an oxygen tube in his nose as he spoke of the illness that he has struggled with for the past few years.
“I got pulmonary fibrosis five years ago… and five months ago my situation deteriorated. I need oxygen, walking is very difficult for me, and I’m waiting for a lung transplant any day now,” he said in the interview.
Erekat, 62, who has been a mainstay of the Palestinian leadership over the last two decades, spoke of his pride in his people. “God has blessed us by making us Palestinians. We are soldiers for Palestine,” he said.
“I want to tell everyone to be proud; I am proud of every year I spent as a soldier for Palestine. Know that Palestine’s independence is surely on its way. A Palestinian state in 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital; this is coming; it is a historical imperative,” Erekat said.
Pulmonary fibrosis causes scarring on the lungs that inhibits breathing and blocks the body’s ability to absorb oxygen.
Erekat flew to the US on the private jet of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the report said. His wife and his eldest son, Ali, were with him.
Erekat had been receiving treatment in Israel.
In August the Health Ministry denied that Erekat was on a short list to receive a lung transplant from Israel’s National Transplant Center. The denial came after the Hebrew Ynet news site reported that Erekat was on wait lists for a lung transplant in the United States and Israel.
Ynet later reported, citing officials at Israel’s Health Ministry and the National Transplant Center, that only Israeli citizens may register with the national wait list. In additio, they said, the priority order on the list is determined solely according to medical criteria, without exceptions — transplants go to the patient in most dire medical need.
In cases where no Israeli patient is found suitable to receive an available donor organ, it may be transplanted into someone who is not a citizen of Israel, subject to agreement from the donor’s family. Such cases are rare, according to Ynet, and Erekat would come in at the bottom of the list as a non-citizen.
JTA contributed to this report.