The Palestinians' bid to seek UN recognition of a state will just be a symbolic victory and will not change the reality of Israeli occupation, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said Tuesday.
Fayyad's skepticism, voiced in an interview with The Associated Press, set him apart from the rest of the Palestinian leadership.
Earlier this week, President Mahmoud Abbas and top Palestinian officials in his Fatah movement formally adopted the UN plan.
Passage of a non-binding resolution in the UN General Assembly would not immediately change the situation on the ground. But the Palestinians hope it will rally international pressure on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem — occupied territories claimed by the Palestinians.
A senior Abbas aide, Nabil Shaath, said Tuesday that the campaign would only be halted if Israel unexpectedly accepts what the Palestinians consider the minimum conditions for negotiations — an Israeli settlement freeze and recognition of the pre-1967 war armistice line as the basis for border talks. Israel has rejected both demands.
Fayyad, a political independent who is not involved in decision-making on foreign policy, nonetheless expressed doubts about the UN campaign.
Asked if anything would change on the ground after UN recognition, he said: "My answer to you is no. Unless Israel is part of that consensus, it won't because to me, it is about ending Israeli occupation."
Both Israel and the U.S. strongly object to the Palestinians' attempt to seek UN recognition, urging them instead to resume negotiations. Abbas and his aides believe it would be impossible to reach a deal with hard-line Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and suspect he seeks negotiations simply as a stalling tactic.
With negotiations stalled since late 2008, the Palestinians have developed alternative tactics in hopes of improving their leverage vis-a-vis Israel and generating international support and good will.
Fayyad, an economist and former International Monetary Fund official, has led the nation-building drive, backed by hundreds of millions of dollars a year in international aid, while Abbas and others have lobbied individual countries to recognize a Palestinian state.
Shaath said Tuesday that 116 countries have already granted recognition and that he expects about two dozen more to do so in the near future.
Fayyad warned against raising false expectations among Palestinians that UN recognition would change their lives.
"It is not going to be a dramatic result and I do not believe it will be right to continue, for there to be preoccupation about something dramatic happening," he said.
"Reality has to begin to change in a discernible way," he said. "The reality of the occupation will not change."
"We are not looking for something that is in the nature of a declarative victory," he added.
Fayyad has been in office since being appointed in June 2007 by Abbas, following the takeover of Gaza by the rival Islamic militant Hamas. Fayyad's authority is largely limited to the West Bank, while Hamas continues to control Gaza.
In recent weeks, the two political camps made progress toward reconciliation with a power-sharing deal in principle. However, attempts to form an interim unity government have stalled because of arguments over its composition.
Abbas has said he wants Fayyad to continue in the job until elections are held, but Hamas adamantly opposes that choice.
Fayyad is respected by the international community and seen as key to maintaining the flow of Western aid. Donor nations would want assurances that their money does not reach Hamas, which is considered to be a terrorist group by Israel and the West.
Fayyad said Tuesday that he does not want to be seen as an obstacle to a unity deal, but noted that he has Abbas' backing. Fayyad suggested he might withdraw from consideration if sniping by his political opponents continues.
"This nonsense about (me) being imposed on anyone has to stop," he said, visibly angry.
And if this continues for any length of time, that would be the moment when I step in and say, enough already, under no condition will I accept to serve."
Fayyad also said he would not serve as finance minister under a different prime minister, bristling at the idea of being kept on because of his strong ties to the donors.
"That would not work ... partly because it would most likely be seen as an attempt by our system to tell the world, here is a face that the donor community has been comfortable with, essentially looking at me more or less as the ATM," he said.
"I am not the ATM for the Palestinian Authority. I never was," he said.
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