With skepticism rife over a Fatah-Hamas rapprochement and the Hamas demand to replace him, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam 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:
: 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?
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.
Having said that, the word on the street is that you might run for president.
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.
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?
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 monitoring
finances. 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.
So how do you view your legacy?
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
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
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.
Do you believe fundamentalism within Hamas can actually go beyond this?
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.
But if you cannot get them – Hamas – to adopt to non-violence, then what would happen?
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
What do you say to those who warn that because of the political situation fiscally, everything can collapse?
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.
Worse case scenario you envision happening?
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 email@example.com.
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