Meeting the prime minister of the Palestinian authority

Dr. Salaam Fayyad tells Steve Kelman's group about the Palestinian Authority's desire to build up governing capabilities in anticiaption of independence from Israel.

As I mentioned in my last blog, our group met with Dr. Salaam Fayyad, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA), during our visit to Israel. We were supposed to meet with Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator, but he had a meeting abroad that prevented that meeting.

It’s interesting that a tour sponsored by a Jewish-organization now includes such meetings, and Israeli television and newspapers now regularly interview Palestinian leaders. Fayyad is a former economist at the International Monetary Fund who worked under MIT Professor Stanley Fischer when the latter – now Governor of the Bank of Israel – was the organization’s chief economist.

When Fayyad walked into the room with us, he asked somebody to raise the blinds on the windows. “It looks like we’re in a bunker” with the blinds down, he quipped.

Fayyad’s key priority is to build Palestinian governmental institutions so that Palestinians will be prepared to govern when and if they get an independent state. He sees the fight against terrorism in this context. “A state must have a monopoly of use of violence,” he told us. The Palestine Liberation Organization renounced the use of violence in the Oslo accords of 1993, but there have been criticisms of efforts to stop violence by Hamas or other pro-terror organizations.

Fayyad said the PA had made important progress since 2007 working in cooperation with Israeli security to prevent terrorism. After the killing of an Israeli soldier in the West Bank the day before our meeting, Fayyad had condemned the killing “with no ifs, ands or buts”; during another point in his presentation, Fayyad spoke about “our Israeli neighbors.” At the same time, Fayyad’s priority is to improve delivery of basic services by PA. “State-building makes it easier to make political progress,” he argued.

Fayyad said he realizes that some doubt the genuineness of the new PA approach. “The highest form of assurance,” he told us, “is that what we’re doing is in our best interests. If we fail, we can’t get from the Israelis a deal we can live with … I’m not doing you a favor, I’m doing me a favor.”

I try to stay away from politics in this blog, but I can’t refrain from quoting – with approval -- from an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post (a quite hard-line Israeli English-language daily) about the current situation with the Gaza blockade and the PA in the West Bank:

“What worries me most about lifting the blockade is that we will … be lifting [Hamas] even higher, while undercutting Abbas and Fayyad even worse than we’ve been doing already for years. This is the stupidest, most self-defeating strategy anyone could invent.”

The piece continues: “We’re leaving Abbas and Fayyad with a handful of nothing. Our prime minister tells them, ‘Come on and negotiate,’ yet the ‘Palestinian state’ he offers them comes with so many restrictions that it’s actually no more than local autonomy with a flag. He goes back on a decade of territorial offers…, then pretends to wonder why Abbas doesn’t jump at the chance to talk peace.

“Israel has never faced Palestinian leaders even remotely as moderate, as businesslike, as demonstratively anti-terrorism as Abbas and Fayyad. The alternative to them is Hamas. And by offering Abbas and Fayyad nothing, Israel is helping Hamas win.”

PS. I saw in the International Herald Tribune that there was criticism in the United States about a comment by the BP board chairman, who is Swedish, about the “small people.” It is indeed correct that this was simply an awkward literal translation of a normal Swedish phrase, “smafolket,” which in Swedish is the equivalent of “grass roots” or “ordinary people.”

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