Imagine this. You’re a prime minister praised in the Western media as a moderate man of peace. You represent a people who the US president says is in an intolerable situation. You’re dependent on contributions from Western democratic countries that want you to make a deal. Your rivals have seized almost half the land you want to rule and work tirelessly to overthrow your regime and very possibly to kill you personally.
But here comes a big opportunity.
You are invited by your negotiating partner to its most important meeting of the year. All the other side’s top leaders and opinion makers are listening to you.
And that country’s second most powerful leader has just made a very conciliatory speech praising you personally, urging peace, offering concessions and telling his own people they must be ready to give you a lot.
What do you do?
Make a warm conciliatory, confidence-building speech, showing by substantial offers that you, too, are willing to compromise, stretching out your hand to build friendship and ensure you get a country?
But here is what Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told the audience at the Herzliya Conference last week, held at the Interdisciplinary Center, following Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s conciliatory speech:
• Israel must unilaterally pull out of the rest of the West Bank, getting nothing in return.
• It must immediately stop all construction on settlements, including apartments now being completed.
• The IDF should never enter PA-ruled areas. Even if the PA doesn’t arrest terrorists who have murdered Israelis or are planning attacks, it must do nothing. Fayyad said this is unnecessary because the PA is taking care of these matters. But this makes no sense: When Israel sees that to be true, it never orders incursions in the first place.
• Israel should end its blockade of the Gaza Strip, even though the Hamas rulers there refuse to make a deal with the PA, openly announce their goal of destroying Israel and smuggle in as many weapons as possible. Moreover, as soon as it feels secure again, Hamas will launch new attacks. Fayyad claimed, however, that if Israel did so, the PA could then build government institutions in the Gaza Strip, though it has no control there whatsoever.
• He stated his goal was to mobilize international support and create such a strong state apparatus that the world would pressure Israel to accept a Palestinian state on the PA’s terms.
• While Barak said regional instability made it harder to give the Palestinians everything they wanted (the PA could be overthrown by Hamas, subverted by Iran and Syria, unwilling or unable to stop cross-border attacks), Fayyad responded that once Israel left, the region would become more stable and peaceful. That’s a rather questionable assertion.
IT IS true that he ends by saying: “We have one key aspiration, and that is once again to be able to live alongside you in peace, harmony and security.” Yet he addressed none of the points in Israel’s peace plan: an official end to the conflict in any agreement. resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Palestine, an end to incitement by PA institutions to kill Israelis, limits on militarization of a Palestinian state or recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
Fayyad is the most moderate guy in the PA leadership. He was doing about the best he could. But that’s the point. He has no base of support, isn’t a Fatah member, and doesn’t really represent Palestinian thinking. He is in office only to keep Western donors happy. Thus, Fayyad couldn’t go any further because he knows his Fatah bosses, Palestinian constituents and Hamas enemies would throw him out if he offered the slightest concession and demanded any less than everything they want.
In his speech, Barak argued that Israel must get rid of the West Bank for its own good. Fayyad says: progress must be made in negotiations, in the context of a speech in which he asked for a long list of concessions and offered nothing in exchange. These statements are not parallel. A parallel statement would be if Fayyad had said something like: The Palestinians risk becoming permanently mired in violence and backwardness unless they negotiate terms that make Israel feel secure enough to give up the territory.
Since 1993 not a single Palestinian leader has ever made a speech to his own people like Barak’s, never said that they should have to give up something to get a state other than their claim to all of Israel (which they don’t quite seem to give up), never urged the media and public debate to become more moderate.
Four days before Fayyad’s speech, the imam Fayyad appointed in Nablus gave a sermon over the television Fayyad controls. As translated by MEMRI, he said: “The Jews are the enemies of Allah and [Muhammad], the enemies of humanity in general, and of the Palestinians in particular... Jews will not cease to be hostile to the Muslims.” Only jihad, not negotiations, can liberate the land.
How can this be reconciled with Fayyad’s claim of Palestinians just wanting “to live alongside you in peace, harmony and security”?
Answer: The sermon is meant to shape Palestinian politics and public
opinion; what Fayyad says is meant to shape Israeli and Western
politics and public opinion. Fayyad believes what he said but, as a
figurehead, also knows that he isn’t going to change the dominant
Palestinian view or even try to do so. The audience applauded Fayyad
because it does want peace and prefers him to all the worse
alternatives, especially Hamas but also those in Fatah. Yet few have
any illusions that peace is at hand or that Fayyad is going to deliver