London, Asharq Al-Awsat- The interview with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was brief, as was his visit to London. Dr. Fayyad spent little over 24 hours in the British capital, in order to attend a meeting organized by the “American – Middle East Project” to discuss solutions to the Middle East issue. The meeting was attended by a large number of western (European and American) diplomats, and other foreign officials, in addition to notable Israeli and Palestinian figures, including businessman Munib al-Masri, and Dr Mustafa al-Barghuthi, leader of the Palestinian National Initiative party. The outcomes of such meetings are usually forwarded on to national leaders, of the countries concerned, for their information. The interview with Fayyad was held in his suite in the Hotel Mandarin, located on the famous Knightsbridge Road in central London. By coincidence, this hotel witnessed the beginnings of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which British Ambassador Sir Mark Sykes, and French Ambassador Georges Picot, signed in Istanbul on 16 May 1916, to divide the territories of the Ottoman Empire. The transcript of the interview is as follows:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Before the Oslo agreement in 1993, Israel used to ask the PLO for recognition of its existence. Now, Israel is asking the PA to recognize it as a Jewish state and in the near future, when this is accomplished, Israel – not just Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party – will officially ask for a population exchange, the settlers for the Palestinians of 1948. Are the Palestinians prepared to accept Israel as a Jewish state? Will the resistance to such a scheme stand fast?
[Fayyad] This Israeli scheme is totally unacceptable to us. It would have been better to take a serious and close look at the so-called mutual recognition of 1993 according to which not only did the OPLO recognize Israel’s existence but also its right to exist and not only its right to exist but also its right to live in peace and safety. At least on the theoretical aspect, this can be interpreted that Israel has a veto on the establishment of a Palestinian state if it succeeds in convincing the international community that the establishment of a Palestinian state poses a threat to its existence. This is particularly true since the other part of the mutual recognition did not recognize the Palestinian people’s right to establish a state. It was only recognition of the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Thus, the international community should be preoccupied with this subject and not any other. This is obvious to us at least and this is why the Israeli government keeps raising it. Part of what Israel intends is to empty the negotiations of their substance before they finalize the subject of the refugees, for example, and the unjust denial of rights that this subject entails and also everything that we have mentioned in this regard, such as the Arab citizens in Israel. I repeat what I have said; namely, if there is such a thing as a golden standard for recognition among states, Israel obtained this standard in the Oslo agreement of 1993.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Regarding the subject of US guarantees and pledges, it is noted that all the talk is about guarantees to Israel, particularly on the subject of security, as if the Palestinians do indeed pose a military danger to Israel and as if the Palestinian people do not need security, peace, and stability.
[Fayyad] That’s true; in fact, part of what we have succeeded in accomplishing is raising the issue of security needs and asserting that it is as much a Palestinian need as it is an Israeli one, if not more so. Thus, continuing to talk about Israel’s security needs is part of the structural flaws that should be rectified although we have succeeded in accomplishing some of it. If Israel’s continued focus on the issue of security and the need for security guarantees before the Palestinian state is established is not put in its right perspective it may obstruct the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state one day. Israel’s need for security should be viewed within a framework that includes the need of the Palestinian people to live in freedom and dignity on their land and in a sovereign and independent state.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What dangers do such US pledges pose?
[Fayyad] Any one of these guarantees is worse and more dangerous than the continuation of settlement building activities. If such activities continue, they are bad but not as dangerous as these guarantees and pledges. If we talk about the part related to security presence in the Jordan Valley, you are talking in the language of the Israelis about scores of years. In such a situation, what kind of sovereign Palestinian state are we talking about? What is still more dangerous is that these guarantees impede any moves to internationalize the subject which is part of the tools that are present at the suitable time. I hope my words would not be interpreted as if I am not opposed to settlement building activities. All these guarantees are to persuade Netanyahu to accept extending for two months the decision to stop settlement building activities that do not include Jerusalem and the settlement blocs. This is “empty talk”; we reject the decision itself.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Regarding the issue of resorting to the United Nations and the Security Council if the negotiations failed in order to obtain international recognition in the Palestinian state, I believe that there are differences in the Palestinian viewpoints.
[Fayyad] I am saying that these options are part of the available tools to exercise political struggle in order to enable this program (the plan for state readiness in two years) to come to a conclusion and thus end the occupation. What I wish to assert – specifically about going to the Security Council or other initiatives related to the internationalization of the issue, in other words putting the political track in a situation that makes it more compatible with and based on the requirements of international law and international legitimacy – is that all this requires preparation. The issue is not one of deciding to go to the Security Council or internationalization itself because what we are seeking is not the proclamation of a state but the establishment of a state. What we are after is the establishment of the state and this is what we have to prepare for. These available tools to continue our struggle and end the occupation need exact preparation in order to guarantee the outcome. That is why I always say that what we should pin our eyes on is not the proclamation of the state but the establishment of the state since the state was proclaimed in Algeria in 1988. I am not against going to the Security Council; but, prior to that, we should focus on the defect. The defect is that the reference point of the negotiations has almost disappeared over the years. The answer to this is not to put the subject behind us but to highlight this structural defect and correct it in order to lead a political process based on the requirements of international law and not on the basis of what is assumed in advance to be acceptable to Israel. Whether consciously or unconsciously by the Palestinians, the current battle on the subject of settlement building activities and the reported US guarantees to Israel proceed from the premise that we want a solution that is acceptable to Israel but without saying so outright. The one that thinks of giving Netanyahu guarantees in order to accept a temporary freeze on settlement building is proceeding from the premise that he wants a formula that is acceptable to Israel. He is not proceeding from the premise that Israel is an occupying state and that it refuses to end this occupation. This kind of logic needs to be corrected. In my opinion, an important and major part of Palestinian and Arab diplomatic action at present should focus on this point. This should precede the subject of ‘we should go to the United Nations’ (in a mocking tone) or we should proclaim a state. This action should precede this. We should help the international situation to mature in order to make this transformation in thinking. In the middle of 2002, the international community reached the consensus that there is an Israeli occupation that should end. So what is required is to move the international community from this consensus to a consensus to act directly to translate this situation to a fact on the ground. This needs preparation and should precede going to the Security Council. I repeat that I am not against going to the United Nations. We should go. We are seeking to establish a state not to proclaim a state. Who wants a state should obtain the components of a state. As for the proclamation of a state, this was done and over with. At this stage, we should focus on ensuring the success of this transformation. This requires reaching, as quickly as possible, to a point where the influential forces and components of the international community are convinced that this approach and its structural defect cannot achieve what is required. Thus, what is needed is another visualization that includes action toward what international law and international legitimacy require.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] So, there is no use in continuing the negotiations that seem to have reached an impasse and the alternative is to continue to build the infrastructure and the institutions to expedite Palestinian readiness to convince the various countries in the world of the importance of establishing the state and ending the occupation.
[Fayyad] Who is saying that the negotiations have reached an impasse?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are saying it and so am I.
[Fayyad] But what are the influential forces on the international stage that are convinced of this? My assessment is that the international consciousness has not reached this stage of maturity because until this very moment our efforts are being exerted in Europe and the United States to re-activate the negotiating process. For this reason I say that talking about going to New York might repel people at a time when we need them to rally around us and around the readiness and establishment of the state. I do not wish to cause the moves and attempts on the ground to fail in order to gain international consensus by talking about going to New York. Proceeding from this premise, the Palestinian-Palestinian dialogue for national reconciliation should not focus on the political issues because a day will come when the visions will come together. But what is more important – compared with the establishment of the Palestinian state, which is our basic unifying goal – is the subject of security. It is security and not political thinking. I am prepared to promote it as one of the manifestations of political plurality and the degree of progress is measured by political plurality. What exhausts matters is not political plurality – that, if managed well, may in fact be a source of strength – but security plurality. Security plurality is killing us and killing our national project. Security plurality is not in harmony at all with the goal of establishing the state, which is the basic determiner of the state. Is the state the sole decision-maker when it comes to the issue of security or is it not? Let us Palestinians agree only on this concept.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us talk about the issue of resistance in its two violent and non-violent aspects.
[Fayyad] I personally believe that non-violence has a formidable ability to influence. It helps us reach our goals much more than other means. I am not speaking in absolute terms on whether we have the right to practice other forms of resistance or not. After all these decades of suffering, the issue should not be raised in absolute terms. The fact that our children are no longer being killed on the Israeli checkpoints is a point of strength, not weakness. To me, the subject is not just another communiqué that I wish to issue. No, sir, I feel the incentive to defend this child; this is a source of strength. I have nothing to be ashamed of in adopting this logic; this is not the path to achieving our goal. It is not true what is being said about banning demonstrations as a self-expression. Demonstrations are permitted but there are instructions not to allow children to be sent to the checkpoints. I will continue to defend this stand until the Day of Reckoning! I do not want our children to be slaughtered needlessly on the checkpoints and also so that Israel does not use it as an excuse to perpetuate more occupation of the land. I defend this stand very openly. We should not point the finger at each other. Hamas in the Gaza Strip is following the same security doctrine that is followed by the PA in the West Bank. Instead of pointing the finger at each other, why not say that this is a united stand and let us agree on it as a Palestinian stand? We should not remain captive to sloganeering. It is high time to translate some of these slogans into facts on the ground.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are talking about US financial assistance as if it is huge although this year, it did not exceed $250 million of which $150 million are lent from next year. Whereas, European assistance is the essence without which the PA cannot stand on its feet. And he had said in statements via satellite in a press conference held by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “It is rare to see any sign of any clear progress in Palestine that does not bear the fingerprints of US support”.
[Fayyad] I can say the same thing about European assistance; in other words, there are no signs of clear support that do not bear the fingerprints of European support. Over the past three years, we received $800 million in support of the budget to pay salaries and strengthen the infrastructure. In other words, this aid involves all aspects of life such as education, health, the judiciary, security, and so on. By saying this we are being courteous to the sides that provide us with assistance, but these courtesies are reasonable.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Since we are talking about assistance, what is the financial status of the PA?
[Fayyad] It is improving and not only because we received assistance. By the way, we received $100 million in aid from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and we are thankful for this assistance. We also received aid from the World Bank ($40 million) and $18 million from Japan. The financial status of the PA is improving because we are making progress in reducing dependence on foreign aid. We need to end the deficit. We made progress because the financial requirements of the budget are one-third less than they were in 2008. We expect to make firmer progress in 2011, which is the year of finalizing Palestinian readiness to establish the state. This has an important significance because it means turning into the stage of self-reliance. Another important indication is that the rate of poverty has dropped by one-third from 2007 to 2009. So, progress is being made, but I am the first person to say that this improvement in economic performance cannot be sustained under occupation and the regime of arbitrary domination and control that is part and parcel of the occupation. Performance has improved and continues to improve mainly in government expenditure. This improvement cannot be sustained under the occupation; sustainability is achieved through investments by the internal and external private sector. They will not invest in an environment that is beset with this domination and control.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has any progress been made on the subject of the Jericho airport?
[Fayyad] We have finalized all the preliminary studies and projected cost estimate. The site of this airport has also been located. We will continue with our efforts until Israel objects. If it objects we will try again, just as we do with other projects, including locations where we have not obtained permits from Israel, such as roads and schools (reference to schools in the vicinity of Jerusalem about which Israel raised an uproar and prevented Fayyad – thanks to a decision by its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – from attending the inaugural festivities of these schools after they were renovated).
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Regarding the decision to boycott the products of the settlements and working in them, have you found alternatives to the workers in these settlements?
[Fayyad] First of all, the number of Palestinians working in the settlements has dropped. Second, unemployment has begun to drop in light of a Palestinian economy that operates with more independence from the Israeli economy. These are good and positive indicators. Third, the boycott of the settlements is a self-empowerment of the national economy and its ability to absorb more manpower.