RAMALLAH - Next year, "the birth of a Palestinian state will be celebrated as a day of joy by the entire community of nations," says Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in an exclusive interview to Haaretz.
Relaying Passover greetings to the Jewish community, Fayyad hopes Israelis will also participate in the celebrations for the birth of a new state.
"The time for this baby to be born will come," he says, "and we estimate it will come around 2011. That is our vision, and a reflection of our will to exercise our right to live in freedom and dignity in the country [where] we are born, alongside the State of Israel in complete harmony," says Fayyad, 58.
He also welcomed the Quartet's announcement of two weeks ago in Moscow, which supports the PA's August 2009 plan to establish a state within 24 months.
Fayyad says the Palestinians want an independent and sovereign state, emphasizing they are "not looking for a state of leftovers - a Mickey Mouse state." He and his aides plan for the state to be born during the first term of Barack Obama; he notes that previous U.S. administrations seriously tackled the conflict only toward the end of their second term.
"If for one reason or another, by August 2011 [the plan] will have failed... I believe we will have amassed such credit, in form of positive facts on the ground, that the reality is bound to force itself on the political process to produce the outcome," Fayyad says.
The prime minister adds: "I envision that we will be so mature in terms of positive facts on the ground, and along the way have grown on our Israeli neighbors, we will have begun a process of transformation from a concept, to a possibility, to a reality.
Fayyad says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has succumbed to the settlers who, he says, do not reflect the vision of the majority of Israelis. "We have universally shared values," he says, and notes that "peace will be made between equals, not between masters and slaves."
Fayyad, who has positioned himself at the forefront of popular opposition to occupation, criticizes Israel's policies on protests at Bil'in and Na'alin and for targeting demonstrators. "It is expecting too much of Palestinians not to react," he says.
"It is the right of an oppressed nation to say 'enough'," says Fayyad. "No one should be expected to stand for injustice, not least the Palestinians, who have endured long decades of occupation. Is it not what Gandhi stood for, what Martin Luther King stood for?
"The settlers have a tremendous pull on the Israeli government. It's pure self-righteousness: the exclusion of the possibility that someone out there might have a slightly different opinion - in an indignant way and often times in a violent way.
"Related to the Zionist ethos, fine, Israel is a biblical country, there are lots of hilltops, lots of vacant space, why don't they use that, and let us get on with it?"
Q: Are the American demands of Israel moving us in the right direction? Do you agree with the argument that putting an end to our conflict will help to contain Iran?
A: "The conflict of the region is not about us at all; it's between radicals and moderates. It is clear to me that ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is an American national interest. The world should be able to do what they want to do to help - in their own interest as well but they can't do it.
"The issue should not be looked at as if the United States wants to take a position, it is doing so to favor the Palestinians, at the expense of Israelis. And for the U.S. to succeed it should not be the other way around, either. Basically, for the world to succeed in helping us get to where we want, both sides should be held accountable.
Q: Officials around Netanyahu keep arguing that you are using the settlement issue to avoid a negotiated agreement and gain time until the international community imposes your plan on Israel." A: "This is one way in which this government attempts to trivialize the issue, as if it's a question of taking turns - that we Palestinians somehow just woke up to this reality and decided to make it an issue.
"If the whole world is unable to secure something as basic as stopping this, preventing this from continuing to happen, how sure can we be the political process, once relaunched, will be capable of delivering on those bigger, permanent issues? It is a question of credibility.
"Anyone would be a fool to say that it was right for us to accept a situation that we were not able to stop the expansion of the settlements during negotiations. In hindsight, that is obvious. But a lot of things were not expected in the euphoria of 1993."
Q: According to your information, is there a real moratorium on settlement activity in the West Bank? A: "All indications show that it's not working. There was a serious flaw in the moratorium itself, before the 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo and even before the Gilo affair. That underscored the deep flaw associated with the moratorium concept that was put forward by the Israeli government.
"We knew from the beginning that excluding East Jerusalem from the moratorium concept would become a problem, a flaw associated with that.
"Essentially the way the moratorium concept was put forward, in the way Jerusalem is defined by Israel, is a loophole. It is certainly not something that is taken seriously by the government of Israel. It should be, and yet it is contrived that the Palestinians looked for an issue - to use it as a pretext not to negotiate. "
Q: How do you get out of this? No Israeli leader could promise to stop building in East Jerusalem. A: "A way can be found, particularly since the inherent structure of weakness associated with the moratorium concept that was proposed by Netanyahu was exposed.
"At some point somebody has to stand up and assume responsibility for what's going on. Isn't that what is expected of us Palestinians?
"We need to lift each other up, not drag each other down. You need a full understanding of where the other side is coming from. I maintain that we have that, we understand that these are completely different, diametrically opposed narratives. I don't expect, ever, for our narrative to be accepted by Israel, but likewise, for Netanyahu to say that the Israeli historical narrative is basis for a just settlement, is expecting too much. "
Q: Can you build a Palestinian state as long as Hamas controls Gaza and you are not able to hold elections?
A. "People in Gaza are looking at us as well, and saying they also want to have a better life. Look at how fragmented we are in the West Bank, but Gaza you can cover from north, south, east, and west 10-20 times a day. What took us a year to do in the West Bank can be accomplished in two months in Gaza.
"Who would have thought a couple years ago there would be this transformation in the mind-set? Not many thought that possible. All you have to do is travel beyond Ramallah and see for yourself. It's a changed reality.
Q: What are you doing to stop incitement against Israel?
A: Incitement can take the form of many things - things said, things done, provocations - but there are ways for dealing with this. We are dealing with this. "
Q: Would you agree to leave the issue of Jerusalem to a later stage of the process? A: "Not at all. It should be handled at the very beginning. The negotiations should not be about principles, they should be about arrangements, accommodations, access.
"We look at this politically. Politically, we feel a right to have a state of Palestine on the land that was occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem.
"But this is a political conflict, and I do not believe it should be allowed to spill over into any other sphere, be it cultural or religious. That would be most counterproductive and wrong."
Q: Your plan takes into consideration the need to absorb refugees.
A: Of course, Palestinians would have the right to reside within the State of Palestine.