fayyad - AP - February 20 2011
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad speaks at the northern West Bank village of Al-Jalameh ealier this year. Photo by AP
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RAMALLAH − Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said yesterday the Palestinians have created all the conditions for establishing a Palestinian state. “The mission has been accomplished,” Fayyad said in an interview to Haaretz in Ramallah yesterday.

“Compared to where we were a mere few years ago, there’s been a dramatic change. A sense of real opportunity and optimism. We can do it [set up a state − A.I.]. But being prepared for a state is not the final destination. I’ll be able to say the real mission has been accomplished only when we live in dignity in our own state within the borders of 1967.”

It is hard to find another Arab leader so highly regarded in public opinion. From North Africa in the west to the Gulf States in the east, people are calling to oust governments and corrupt leaders. But Fayyad is a different story. There were pages that appeared on social networks this week saying that “the people want Salam Fayyad.” This followed reports that Fayyad, who has been in office since the summer of 2007 ‏(after Hamas’ revolution in Gaza‏), will have to retire as part of the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah and the setting up a Palestinian unity government.

It is no secret Fayyad made quite a few enemies in both Fatah and Hamas, due to his success as premier. Senior Fatah and Hamas officials would like to see him out of the prime minister’s office.

But Palestinian officials close to President Mahmoud Abbas say Abbas will insist Fayyad stay on. Senior Hamas officials like Izat Rishak and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said recently they do not rule Fayyad out as the unity government’s premier.

Hamas leaders are aware of the great respect Fayyad commands in the international community, the United States and even in Israel, as the one who revolutionized the West Bank’s government, waged war on corruption and introduced sweeping reforms.

Above all, Fatah and Hamas realize Fayyad has achieved an almost impossible mission − preparing the infrastructure for establishing the Palestinian state, perhaps to arrive in September.

Not talking about September

But Fayyad refuses to take part in the predictions and preparations for the United Nations General Assembly in September. “I deal with my responsibility only − what happens from now to September,” he says.

“Talking about September creates a sort of fixation in which people stop talking about what’s happening now − about our need to provide our people with the services they need,” he says.

“We presented our plan in August 2009 to enable setting up a state in September 2011. But already on April 13, at the donor states’ meeting in Brussels, the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund stated that we crossed the statehood line. Our vision had become a reality,” he says.

Unlike the average Palestinian politician, Fayyad does not attack Israel every second sentence. He meticulously details all the obstacles Israel is placing in the PA’s path. The entrance of Israel Defense Forces troops into West Bank cities undermines the Palestinians’ sense of security. So does the Israeli ban on Palestinian security forces’ activity in Palestinian cities in B areas, which are not defined as PA territories.

“Does it matter to the Israeli people if the Palestinian police operate in Palestinian population centers? What difference does it make? It does not make sense. Palestinian security forces must be present in such places. It’s not a threat to Israel. On the contrary, it is in Israel’s interest. You must understand, the occupation must end. Not only because the Palestinians want it, but because [the occupation] is eroding Israel as well.”

Blocked by Israel

He complains that Israel has not done enough to allow the PA’s economic growth. “We have not been allowed to act in C areas and [Israel] has damaged things we have done, such as digging wells to gather rainwater. Meanwhile, the construction in the settlements has continued.”

‘Not Israel’s money’

Israel’s freeze on transferring the Palestinians’ taxes to the PA has resulted in Fayyad’s inability to pay civil service employees their April’s wages. “This is not Israel’s money. These [funds] are taxes paid by Palestinian citizens. Israel has no sovereignty over them. More than that, what made this move necessary? Now, people are telling me, ‘You say you’re ready for statehood but you can’t even pay wages.’”

You talk as if the Israeli side is supposed to help you. Maybe Netanyahu and Lieberman don’t want a Palestinian state. Maybe they want to trip you up?

“I’m not going to speculate about Netanyahu’s intentions,” said Fayyad. “But a critical mass of the Israeli public supports a Palestinian state. That’s why it is important to me that our position is understandable to every woman and man in the world. We want a home.”

You are compared in Israel to David Ben-Gurion.

"I haven't undertaken this business of building a country according to this or that template. This isn't an ordinary task or a routine goal that you could just work according to a certain model. But there is a similarity to the Israeli story. I often say that if it worked for the Israelis, it can work for us. In a sense, the 'cook book' for [establishing a state] crosses borders."

But now with the creation of the unity government it is possible that you will become a kind of Moses, that sees the promised land but doesn't enter it. I mean that you would not be able to head the government when that state comes into being.

"There's something very personal about this business of building a country. It's the nature of the task. It's not building up a company or a department. By definition, it is a very personal experience. You go to sleep with it. You must be completely dedicated, passionate, nonstop. I need to wake up every morning and think – what is it that needs to be done in order to get us closer to that home."

"But that's where the personal part ends. My main aspiration is to celebrate the founding of our country with our people. Whether I will have an official position or not, that doesn't matter. If we get that 'birth certificate' and feel the freedom of our own country, it won't matter to me if I'll have an official position or not."

Do you imagine it sometimes? Really see pictures?

"Of course. I've always been that way. Even as a child I would visualize pictures depicting the last day of school. If you want to convey a vision to people, you need to have that vision in you first. And I live it. I visualize that moment, in actual pictures and become very emotional. The day we are granted independence is going to be one of great celebration."

"I was recently asked by representatives from the donor states where we were on the route to statehood. I said that, like in a race horse, we are entering the final stretch. The stretch of freedom."

Where will you celebrate your Independence Day?

“I imagine myself celebrating our Independence Day in Jerusalem, in the east of the city, in the heart of the Old City.

Still, what if things go wrong?

“I think of only one possibility. I can’t afford to think of other scenarios. This car has but one set speed and it's moving forward. I don't let myself think of other scenarios.”

A third intifada?

"The scenario I'm working with, there's only a 'soft landing.' In other words, a natural birth, insha'Allah [god willing]."

Do you think that the unity government could hurt your efforts? Your plan?
"The most important for the next government is to remain on the path that we have started. It doesn't matter who is chosen for the position, I will offer him my help."

Why are there so many people in Hamas and Fatah that fear you?

"I would rather you asked them that question, and maybe you have already. From the first moment I entered office I have avoided trading blame. I read and listen. I am aware of the criticism, some of which is vicious. But to start dealing with who said what to whom is unnecessary. It diverts me from my mission. I know that what needed to be fixed and done was fixed and done. I did the best that I could, as far as I'm concerned. I can tell you that ever since I took this mission upon myself, I may not be sleeping enough, but I have no trouble falling asleep."

Will you be the next prime minister as well?

“If I’m asked to stay on, I’ll accept only if there’s a consensus. I am not presenting my candidacy. I’ve done this job for four years − not easy years at all. I’m glad I had the extraordinary opportunity to work with such dear, special people. I received a lot of strength and inspiration from meeting people in remote places, in villages, in caves. I’ve had a part in this miraculous experience of setting up a state.”