OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Ron Pundak, an Israeli academic and peace activist who was instrumental in initiating peace talks with the Palestinians in the 1990s, has died. He was 59.
Israeli media reported that Pundak died on Friday after a long illness.
Pundak helped initiate backdoor channels of communications with the Palestinians that paved the way for interim peace accords between the two sides.
The agreements - known as the Oslo Accords, after the secret talks in Norway that preceded them - created the Palestinian Authority and set up autonomous zones for the Palestinians.
The landmark talks ultimately failed to yield a final peace agreement and two decades later, peace remains elusive and the latest Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiation are in disarray.Israeli President Shimon Peres eulogized Pundak as a "warrior for peace," saying on Friday that Pundak "dedicated his entire adult life to the fight for peace between us and our neighbors."
"He was a passionate man for whom peace burned like an eternal flame," Peres said. "It is hard to describe our talks with the Palestinians without mentioning his contribution."
Peres said Pundak "never gave up" pushing for peace with the Palestinians, "even when the situation seemed desperate."
U.N. Mideast envoy Robert Serry issued a statement mourning Pundak's passing. "I knew Ron as somebody tirelessly working for peace," Serry said. "His legacy lives on in the hope that peace will one day be achieved and in the vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security."
Pundak is survived by a wife and other family members. No details of funeral arrangements were immediately available.