December 2010, Pages 60-61

Waging Peace

Prime Minister Fayyad Speaks Out On Building Palestine

Palestinian National Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad works for Palestinian statehood in 2011. (Staff photo E. Baugh)

Palestinian National Authority (PNA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad addressed a packed house at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC on Sept. 23 about his goals for Palestine. Three days later, Israel decided not to renew its temporary "freeze" on building illegal Jewish settlements, and the peace talks fell apart.

Fadi Elsalameen, managing director of the Web site Palestine Note, which co-sponsored the talk, introduced Fayyad, who is a former economist at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

In August 2009, Fayyad launched a two-year statehood program called, "Palestine: Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State." The program is intended to establish the infrastructure of the Palestinian state, including building civil institutions, government offices, a stock market and an airport. At the half-way mark this past August, Fayyad told the audience, he released a follow-up plan called the "Homestretch to Freedom," which details the goals of the coming year in order to create "solid, well-functioning, efficient institutions of government."

The goal at the finish line is statehood, Fayyad emphasized, which means "freedom for the Palestinian people, the opportunity for us Palestinians to be able to live as free people in a country of our own with justice for all, security and stability." Without these things, he cautioned, the "goal of lasting peace in the region will continue to be elusive."

Fayyad said he was encouraged by the fact that President Barack Obama's administration has chosen to deal with this issue early on. "In our quest for freedom, we need to proceed on these two paths simultaneously—the political process, through which we seek to bring the Israeli occupation to an end, and the statehood-building track." By mid-2011, Fayyad expects the "emergence of an independent, viable state of Palestine on the territories occupied in 1967, certainly in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including, as its capital, Jerusalem. That's what this is about."

Fayyad said he has always argued that Palestinians are not going to attain their freedom by being either submissive or belligerent, or by just reacting to events. Building a Palestinian state is a proactive move, he explained, not just an abstract concept—and it is something that is totally possible. In fact, according to a Sept. 21 executive summary published by the World Bank, "If the Palestinian Authority maintains its current performance in institution-building and delivery of public services, it is well-positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future."

"I rest my case," Fayyad concluded to great applause.

Amjad Atallah, co-director of the New American Foundation's Middle East Task Force, asked Fayyad, "What does it mean next year—if everything goes according to plan, what does it mean for Palestinians to be free?" Think of being able to go on with your life, Fayyad replied, "free of worry about your security at the individual and family level." Imagine being able to focus on issues that matter to development, not only in economic terms but in social and cultural terms. Palestinians, like other countries free of conflict, will be able to "really get on with it and develop our society and provide opportunities" and a future for their young men and women.

Taghreed Khodary asked about the need for unity among Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank in order to implement a future agreement. Fayyad agreed that the domestic situation must be resolved, or "the state of Palestine would continue to be a fairy tale and not part of the reality."

Regardless of political differences, Fayyad stated, "They are our people. Gaza and the West Bank are the same. One people." The easing of the blockade is not enough, Fayyad added: There should also be safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank. "This link was part of the interim agreement of Oslo," he pointed out, "and should have happened in the '90s."

When asked to comment on Binyamin Netanyahu's new demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Fayyad stated that Palestinians recognized Israel's right to exist in peace and security back in 1993. "You will think that, in return for this recognition, we would have gotten recognition on the part of the government of Israel of our right to statehood as Palestinian people," he added. "That wasn't the case...Israel recognized the PLO as a representative of the Palestinian people. That's all..."

The way a country chooses to define itself is a product of its own internal political processes, Fayyad noted. It shouldn't be raised as a demand or expectation of any other nation. The issue never came up in peace talks with Jordan or Egypt.

When asked by Sabeel, DC member Paul Verduin about the international boycott of Israeli goods, Fayyad replied, "I do support the boycott of settlement products, and I lead it. As a matter of fact, it's my government that has sponsored it. By boycotting settlement products, our people are exercising their right to say no to the occupation."

Finally, Fayyad was asked, "If the talks remain stalled a year from today, will you declare independence unilaterally?"

"Declaration of statehood is above my pay grade," the prime minister quipped, but added, "do not underestimate the power of the concept, the power of ideas put into action and facts on the ground."

—Ellen Baugh and Delinda Hanley