JPost - Fayyad: Unity, non-violence necessary for statehood
JPost - Wednesday, 30 November 2011
The Jerusalem Post
Fayyad: Unity, non-violence necessary for statehood
By FELICE FRIEDSON/THE MEDIA LINE
PA prime minister tells The Media Line, “Without doctrine of non-violence, too many missing ingredients” for statehood.
With skepticism rife over a Fatah-Hamas rapprochement and the Hamas demand to replace him, Palestinian Authority Prime MinisterSalam Fayyad, the man credited with energizing the movement toward statehood and the man Western governments want holding the PA’s purse strings, discusses the pending issues with Felice Friedson, President and CEO of The Media Line news agency, at his Ramallah office. Below is the first of two sessions between Prime Minister Fayyad and Ms. Friedson.
Friedson: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for taking the opportunity to speak with me and The Media Line.
Fayyad: My pleasure.
Friedson: Is there going to be a unity government comprised of Fatah and Hamas?
Fayyad: Well, I’m hoping that as a matter of fact, sooner rather than later. We Palestinians can have – at long last – one government that is able to run the affairs of the Palestinian people both in Gaza and the West Bank. I personally view that as an essential first step toward re-establishing unity. I have always maintained that the state of Palestine which we are seeking cannot and will not happen unless our country is re-united -- and one government is a key instrument of getting there. We just cannot keep going in the way we’ve been going for four years now: separated; separate governing processes; unable to get together physically; having lots of responsibilities there; wanting to discharge them more fully and adequately toward our own people. It just can’t continue. This is really most unnatural. We must see this operation come to an end.
Friedson: Will Salam Fayyad be able to continue as prime minister if there is a unity government?
Fayyad: You know, on the basis of what has transpired and most recent contacts especially between the two main factions, Fatah and Hamas, it is no secret that excluding me from the possibility of being the prime minister in the next government was something that was a major issue and topic of discussion and consideration in that direction. Now, I myself have always considered that this should not be an issue, and that as far as I’m concerned, I am not now and I will never be and I can never accept being in a position of even being just thought of as an obstacle in the way of getting us there, in terms of getting the county united again. And most recently and ahead of the most recent round of negotiations which took place in Cairo, and well before that, I actually called on the factions to agree on a consensus choice other than the existing prime minister -- other than me -- with a view to making absolutely clear that statements and speculation as to me being the obstacle or impediment were completely unfounded and that they should really be free to go ahead and do that. There are a lot of qualified people out there and all that is required is that there be agreement and consensus on one; we should move on.
Friedson: Having said that, the word on the street is that you might run for president.
Fayyad: I have not considered anything in politics beyond what I’m doing right now. It is a uniform point of view of anyone who has followed my career until now and what I have been doing for more than 40 years; this would not really come as a surprise. What I am being completely focused on is to be able to continue to chart these difficult waters; build on the progress that we’ve been able to achieve in various fields of government in terms of deepening our readiness for statehood; continue to provide support for our political activity internationally. These are really difficult challenges, so, no, I have not and I will not be thinking about anything but what I’m doing.
Friedson: Your presence has allowed Western governments to provide aid to the Palestinian Authority. So let’s just say you did leave the government as the prime minister. Won’t a sizeable amount of [international] support be placed in jeopardy?
Fayyad: I hope not. I think over the past few years, and this probably is or should be one of the key reasons why we have this much support and international confidence, if you will. I’m really personally flattered by all of this, but at the same time I believe it’s a reflection by and large of the progress that we’ve been able to make in institutionalizing governance processes including in the important area of monitoringfinances. If the donors have confidence and faith, it’s not so much, I believe, in the fact that there is x, y or z running the show now. It’s a direct consequence of them having assurance that there are mature governance processes in key areas of government including, importantly, public finance. And so therefore I hope that would not happen.
Friedson: So how do you view your legacy?
Fayyad: It is one of institutionalizing things. It is one of basically converting all energies that we have at the individual level as well as collectively into one part of national effort that is really capable of projecting the kind of true, real, genuine readiness for the state of Palestine that is going to happen; that I really have set out from the beginning as a goal, as a compass for everything that we really do. That’s really the most important thing. So it is progress toward the goal of institutionalizing all of these processes and I believe that is what matters.
Friedson: Mr. Prime Minister, placing your role in the next government aside, American legislators from both parties are warning that the United States cannot fund a Palestinian government that includes Hamas because it’s on the terror list. How iron-clad do you see this stipulation as being?
Fayyad: When we talk about one government, and I mentioned among other things that number one, it is important to have that; and number two, to discuss the makeup of that government and what it should be like, it’s platform, we touched a little bit on the tasks of that government. I do not believe that our friends in Congress would disagree with what I said about the need for us to have one government. No one can because it is, for me, a straightforward point of logic for us to want to see our country re-united. On the basis of that same logic, I see no difficulty and come to the conclusion that this cannot but be the universally-shared conclusion because that state of Palestine – in order for it to happen – must have Gaza as a component. We Palestinians can’t have a state without Gaza. And to the extent that a two-state solution is not only a Palestinian interest, but a regional interest and an international interest, there cannot but be a convergence of views on the need for our country to be reunited. This said, I think it’s incumbent on us Palestinians to really try to manage our own affairs in ways that would not interfere with our capacity to interact effectively with the international community including the United States and especially the Congress of the United States.
Friedson: Do you believe fundamentalism within Hamas can actually go beyond this?
Fayyad: I personally believe in the immense power of non-violence. But it is generally true that this approach, this doctrine, is more broadly shared today in Palestine than at any point before. I think we should take advantage of it and try to formalize it. Therefore, I say, if you have the prospect or possibility of having a Palestinian government, a key task of which is to oversee the implementation of such an important doctrine, would not that represent a major advance or improvement relative to status quo or status quo ante? My answer is, “Yes.” It’s a major improvement relative to what we have. If we ignore other elements, would that government be ideal? I’d say, “No.” But there’s hardly an ideal government anywhere in the world for that matter. In other words, whether we’re going to be better in regards to the status quo is the yardstick by which I measure things. Are we assured that such government is going to be perfect from every other point of view? The answer is no. But my answer is, “Let us begin. Let’s create conditions that are better tomorrow than they are today and build on that. Create a new dynamic: a Palestinian Authority that’s able to function in Gaza.” Being able to enforce, observe and implement a doctrine of non-violence throughout the occupied Palestinian territory is a major advance in being able to formalize what has now become a broadly shared conviction in this doctrine of non-violence. I believe that it is very important to formalize that and for that to become a key ingredient for the platform of the government.
Friedson: But if you cannot get them – Hamas – to adopt to non-violence, then what would happen?
Fayyad: I have just described to you what I believe would be absolutely essential in terms of the platform of that government, in terms of its key tasks and responsibilities. And if that is not really agreed upon, if that doctrine of non-violence is not a key ingredient in the platform of that government, then again I say, it will be from our own point of view, a case of too many missing ingredients.
Friedson: Hezbollah is also on the terror list and controls 21 out of 30 cabinet seats in the Lebanese government. Yet, the United States provides aid there. Are the situations comparable? Do you see this as a reason to believe that aid will continue notwithstanding the threats to cut off support?
Fayyad: It is way above my pay grade to engage in cross-border comparisons. I’ll just confine myself to what is possible, reasonable, do-able on our side; and I just described to you, Felice, what is our point of view; what I believe is absolutely essential from our point of view relative to our own objective. Basic and most fundamental of our objectives – what is that? To have a state of our own. What does that mean and what does it require? It requires functional security. Functionality of security requires that the state and its agencies is the address and the state – and only the state – will have purview over security matters.
Friedson: Speaking of obligations, you yourself have criticized Arab governments for failing to make good on pledges to the Palestinian Authority. If the United States and Western governments suspend aid, do you feel you can rely on the Arab governments to fill in the gap?
Fayyad: We have problems now in terms of aid flows. We have an interruption and we have so far an overall flow of aid that’s been less than programmed for this current fiscal year 2011, and what we got of it did not always come in a timely way, which complicated our task and precipitated a financial crisis, which at one point during the year, or twice, made it impossible for us to pay salaries. Not to mention our failure to meet other important obligations to the private sector, vendors, suppliers. This is a major problem for us. To me, the issue is really not to look for other sources of funding in order to overcome the difficulties we face with some sources. The solution to me lies in stepping up our own efforts in attaining self-reliance and in the meantime reducing substantially on our reliance on aid. We must find a way to substantially reduce the deficit in 2012 beyond the level that was planned on the original baseline and we’re doing it. It is my firm expectation that we are going to be able to substantially reduce our level of deficit in a way that should make it the last year in which we’re going to need external financial assistance for current budget support for current expenditures. That’s a major achievement. It will be yet another sign – a very important sign -- of the advanced state of maturity of governing ourselves; of the level that we have reached.
Friedson: What do you say to those who warn that because of the political situation fiscally, everything can collapse?
Fayyad: Well, fiscally, everything is already collapsing. Not can or will. It is collapsing already under the heavy weight of the suspension of the transfers of our revenues that the government of Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. We are fast approaching the point of being completely incapacitated by this, and I really mean it. Now we cannot move checks as low in value as $5,000 and $6,000 without making a special effort with the banks. We really are on the verge of being completely incapacitated by this measure by the government of Israel.
Friedson: Worse case scenario you envision happening?
Fayyad: I’m realistic. You know, in theory some might say that you should look to others to come up with the difference. But realistically, what is it we’re talking about? We’re talking about an amount of money that comprises about two-thirds of our revenues – about $100 million to $110 million per month. I just told you the order of magnitude. I told you our budget deficit for 2011 is about $1 billion. So figure we’re talking about depriving us of about $100 million a month of our revenues. That would have doubled – it’s been happening since January of this year – our financing requirement. Now, if we could not come up with $1 billion in external assistance, how can we even begin to think that we can come up with $2 billion? So it’s wholly unrealistic to expect that the withholding or suspension of transfer of money from Israel is something that can be compensated for by donor assistance. You’re taking away from us two-thirds of our revenues. It is difficult for me to see how that can be compensated for by external assistance given the difficulties we have experienced in getting much less by way of external assistance. In principle, it is possible. In theory, it is possible. In reality, how realistic is it going to be given the orders of magnitude? Makes it unlikely and makes it difficult for me to think that it will be possible to deal with this problem by looking for money from other sources. The state of Palestinian finances is something of which I have intimate knowledge of since the inception of the Palestinian Authority and from various angles in different capacities from long before I joined the Palestinian Authority in 2002. I can tell you with absolute certainty that the Palestinian Authority has never faced a financial situation that is more difficult than the one it is facing now. When I say we’re on the verge of becoming completely incapacitated, I really mean it literally. This is how difficult it is. The only way it can be resolved is by the government of Israel doing the right thing and that is to live up to the agreement we have -- the one that governs our relationship in money and finance. Continued failure to resolve this issue should rightly cast serious doubt about the capacity of the political process to deal with the more difficult issues that are to be negotiated between us and the Israelis.
Felice Friedson is President and CEO of The Media Line news agency. She can be contacted at felice_friedson@....