Lally Weymouth interviews Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (WASHINGTON POST) 06/22/12)
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ďIf only we could clone him,Ē a senior U.S. official said to me
recently, speaking about Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Held in great respect by foreigners, Fayyad may soon find himself out
of a job if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (also
called Abu Mazen) forges a national unity government with Hamas. This
past week, Fayyad sat down in the West Bank city of Ramallah with The
Washington Postís Lally Weymouth. Excerpts:
What is going on with the formation of the Fatah-Hamas unity
government? Does Abu Mazen favor its creation? Does Hamas want it?
The process has taken the form of what I call rounds of dialogue.
Most recently, something came out under the heading of the Doha
Declaration. It said there would be a government of technocrats,
headed by President Abbas himself, for a transitional period during
which preparation would take place for elections.
About three weeks ago, that understanding was adjusted in the course
of another round of dialogue in Cairo, where there was a decoupling
of the act of conducting elections from the act of putting together a
government. Doha was signed by [Hamas leader] Khaled Meshal and Abu
Mazen. But that agreement did not find support within Hamas in Gaza.
So in Cairo the negotiators said there was no need to have elections
after the formation of a national unity
The link became a lot weaker under the Cairo formulation between the
act of conducting elections and putting together this transitional
government headed by Abu Mazen. . . .
After the Doha Declaration, Hamas would not allow the independent
elections commission to go to Gaza to update the voter registry. That
has not been done for years now. But after the Cairo accord, which
happened about three weeks ago, they allowed the commission to go and
prepare for updating the registry. If you ask me, I am not convinced
that there is seriousness about elections.
On the part of Hamas? Or also on the part of Abu Mazen?
On the part of Hamas for sure. I will just leave it there.
Wasnít Abu Mazen elected a long time ago?
He was elected in January of 2005.
For one four-year term?
And the parliament was elected when?
In January 2006.
And that was also for one four-year term?
Yes, they are both overdue.
What do people think about that?
The key problem of the attempt at reconciliation is the lack of
seriousness about elections for sure on the part of Hamas. It is a
well-known fact borne out by various opinion polls that there has
been a steady erosion in Hamasís standing, both in the West Bank and
Gaza. I believe that is why they have been dodging elections.
Because they would lose?
Thatís a good reason.
Itís reported that Hamas wants to make inroads in the West Bank.
Itís true. Hamas ran the country ó both Gaza and the West Bank ó over
the period of March 2006 to March 2007. It was a Hamas-only
government. Their experience in government was not really very
successful, and everyone knows it. There was a financial freeze
placed on the Palestinian Authority. The banking system started to
distintegrate. It was not a good experience. Then there was a
national unity government for three months. I was in that government
as finance minister. But then that government collapsed under the
severe blow of the violent takeover by Hamas in Gaza. Since then,
they have been the de facto authority in Gaza. . . . And people have
lived under that regime for five full years now. . . .
[But] in a situation like we are in right now in Palestine, it
doesnít mean they have no shot at winning elections.
How is Fatah doing?
In opinion polls, Fatah has recovered since 2006 some of the lost
ground. What people donít know is that in 2006, in terms of
percentage of overall vote, Fatah and Hamas had about the same
percentage ó about 44 percent for each of them.
If Abu Mazen and Khaled Meshal form a national unity government, is
your head the price of this union?
From the very beginning, I viewed my role as a caretaker until there
was a method by which the country could be put back together. I would
not rule myself out of being in government in a situation where there
So you would not rule yourself out?
The reality is that there is no agreement to keep me if there is
reconciliation. This puts me in a very awkward position. It is as if
I am prime minister only for the period of separation. I am a
unionist. We are not going to be able to have a Palestinian state so
long as there is a separation between Gaza and the West Bank. We must
unify our country.
I heard you were thinking of forming your own party. Would you go
into government in the future?
That is definitely something I would not rule out. I would much
prefer for that to be the outcome of an election. I do not think ó as
many wrongly do ó that it is easier to govern without a legislature.
I think it is totally wrong. My message is simple: We want people to
be given the opportunity to exercise their full right to choose their
leadership. And itís overdue. Thatís what really matters to me.
Does anyone else inside Fatah or Hamas share your enthusiasm for
elections? If so, how will elections come about?
This is something I believe is going to happen, and I hope sooner
rather than later. The more people are given the opportunity to
express themselves on the issue, the more likely it is that elections
will take place.
Do you think people will take to the streets here like they did in
Cairo? If Abu Mazen and Khaled Meshal can have a government and
shuffle the deck around, why would they have an election?
I think people may have a thing or two to say about that. I think
people would beg to differ. People here yearn for the possibility to
choose their leadership. We were among the first in the Arab world to
have open, fair and inclusive elections. And I believe that our
people should have that opportunity again, and I expect them to
And you believe that they will?
I believe it is their absolute right. How do we get to the point
where we have elections? If it is going to be left up to the dialogue
to produce this, thatís not really going to do it. It is something
that is going to have to really be forced on the system. People are
not going to be patient forever, waiting for rounds of dialogue, one
after the other.
I know that President Abbas and Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu
have been exchanging letters and that the chief Palestinian
settlement negotiator, Saeb Erekat, and Israeli negotiator Yitzhak
Molcho are [having meetings] in Washington, D.C.
Sequentially, not simultaneously. Molcho was there last week, and
Erekat is this week.
Are they trying to reopen a dialogue on the peace process?
In some form, maybe. Whether that will be adequately productive
remains to be seen. I believe thatís not where the focus should be.
Where I believe the investment should be is on issues that pertain to
our capacity to deliver services to our people, to improve governance
[in order to] enhance our efforts in achieving statehood.
You were against going to the United Nations last fall for
recognition of the Palestinian state, werenít you?
I am for any initiative that brings us closer to the day when we are
able to live as free people in a country of our own. I was always
preoccupied with what the reality on the ground is going to be in
Palestine the day after the U.N. vote. Clearly, if there were not an
effort to end the Israeli occupation, then the reality on the ground
would be the same the day after. I donít need another declaration of
statehood ó we already have one.
Do you think that Prime Minister Netanyahu is serious about ending
We have not seen the kind of movement on the ground that is
consistent with projecting this belief. Going back to June 2009,
Netanyahu signaled for the first time a willingness to accept a two-
state solution concept. But in terms of projecting that into
effective support for a two-state reality, there is a serious
distance to be traveled. What is the alternative to the Palestinian
state as a solution to this conflict? There is no meaningful
So you donít see movement toward a two-state solution?
It has been very difficult over the past two years. We have been
stuck over the issue of continued settlement expansion, with that
being a major obstruction to a resumption of talks. In this most
recent round of activity, an effort is being exerted to see if there
are some possibilities. I think to try is better than not to.
Do you worry about Syria?
Of course. The tragedy in Syria is the slaughtering of the people and
the bloodshed. But there are ramifications that extend beyond Syria.
What would you like to see the United States do?
Many people think it is a matter of days or weeks for [President
Bashar al-]Assad to go. What they donít think about is the world as
he himself sees it. You are not looking at someone who thinks his
days are numbered, or else he wouldnít be doing what he is doing. You
are looking at someone who thinks that he has a shot at survival. And
on good days, he thinks that he actually will survive. You ask
yourself why, in a regime and a country where all this bloodshed is
taking place, is there someone who still thinks they can make it? The
answer lies in capitals like Moscow. Russia and China have prevented
a consensus from forming at the Security Council. In this case, as in
the case of Iran, the United States should spend more time thinking
about what it should do to factor in Russiaís desire to be treated
like the Soviet Union once was. Russia needs to be engaged by the U.S.
The Palestinian Authority has had financial problems this year.
There is a shortfall in external assistance from the region ó not
from the United States or Europe. Itís not that we got nothing ó
there is just a shortfall.
I heard you worked out a bridge loan with Stan Fischer, governor of
the Bank of Israel?
A meeting of the donor community happens twice a year; this time it
was in Europe. I was given the floor, and I said, ďWe came here with
a very deep financial crisis, and it is paralyzing us.Ē I said either
countries that have lived up to their pledges, like the European
Union and the United States, could increase their contributions,
which I know is not easy, or the region needs to come up with more
money. Or the international community could make it possible for us
to borrow money from the [International Monetary Fund] since we are
undertaking an adjustment program that, if we were a country, would
definitely qualify [us] for that kind of loan. But because we are not
a member of the IMF, we donít have access to these funds. There must
be something you can do. We are still pursuing it.
You will really leave the government in such a dire situation?
I am not going to go away. This is a dream for me. I donít have to be
in government to pursue it and support it. It extends well beyond
being in any position.
So you will be back?
Iím not going to go away.
And maybe the Hamas-Fatah deal will never be made.
Speculation now is that there will be difficulties. The problem that
is often overlooked is that this on-again, off-again reconciliation
produces a sense of transiency about the [Palestinian Authority].
Hereís a government that is about to go. How are banks going to
extend loans to us if they think we are not going to be in office
next week? It produces a state of uncertainty. I am all for resolving
this and deciding it in a swift way. This state of separation can be
ended in only one way: elections. Thatís how this should be decided.
Whatever the election outcome, it should be respected.
You would run in the elections?
I am not ruling it out. If I rate my prospects as reasonable, I will
try my hand. I think it is doable. (© 2010 The Washington Post
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