“I'm Not Going To Go Away”
An interview with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
L.W.: How is Fatah doing?
S.F.: In opinion polls, Fatah has recovered since 2006 some of the lost ground. What people don't know is that in 2006, in terms of percentage of overall vote, Fatah and Hamas had about the same percentage—about 44 percent for each of them.
L.W.: If Abu Mazen and Khaled Meshal form a national unity government, is your head the price of this union?
S.F.: From the very beginning, I viewed my role as a caretaker until there was a method by which the country could be put back together. I would not rule myself out of being in government in a situation where there is unity.
L.W.: So you would not rule yourself out?
S.F.: The reality is that there is no agreement to keep me if there is reconciliation. This puts me in a very awkward position. It is as if I am prime minister only for the period of separation. I am a unionist. We are not going to be able to have a Palestinian state so long as there is a separation between Gaza and the West Bank. We must unify our country.
L.W.: I heard you were thinking of forming your own party. Would you go into government in the future?
S.F.: That is definitely something I would not rule out. I would much prefer for that to be the outcome of an election. I do not think—as many wrongly do—that it is easier to govern without a legislature. I think it is totally wrong. My message is simple: We want people to be given the opportunity to exercise their full right to choose their leadership. And it's overdue. That's what really matters to me.
L.W.: Does anyone else inside Fatah or Hamas share your enthusiasm for elections? If so, how will elections come about?
S.F.: This is something I believe is going to happen, and I hope sooner rather than later. The more people are given the opportunity to express themselves on the issue, the more likely it is that elections will take place.
L.W.: Do you think people will take to the streets here like they did in Cairo? If Abu Mazen and Khaled Meshal can have a government and shuffle the deck around, why would they have an election?
S.F.: I think people may have a thing or two to say about that. I think people would beg to differ. People here yearn for the possibility to choose their leadership. We were among the first in the Arab world to have open, fair and inclusive elections. And I believe that our people should have that opportunity again, and I expect them to demand it.
L.W.: And you believe that they will?
S.F.: I believe it is their absolute right. How do we get to the point where we have elections? If it is going to be left up to the dialogue to produce this, that's not really going to do it. It is something that is going to have to really be forced on the system. People are not going to be patient forever, waiting for rounds of dialogue, one after the other.
L.W.: I know that President Abbas and Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu have been exchanging letters and that the chief Palestinian settlement negotiator, Saeb Erekat, and Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho are [having meetings] in Washington, D.C.
S.F.: Sequentially, not simultaneously. Molcho was there last week, and Erekat is this week.
L.W.: Are they trying to reopen a dialogue on the peace process?
S.F.: In some form, maybe. Whether that will be adequately productive remains to be seen. I believe that's not where the focus should be. Where I believe the investment should be is on issues that pertain to our capacity to deliver services to our people, to improve governance [in order to] enhance our efforts in achieving statehood.
L.W.: You were against going to the United Nations last fall for recognition of the Palestinian state, weren't you?
S.F.: I am for any initiative that brings us closer to the day when we are able to live as free people in a country of our own. I was always preoccupied with what the reality on the ground is going to be in Palestine the day after the U.N. vote. Clearly, if there were not an effort to end the Israeli occupation, then the reality on the ground would be the same the day after. I don't need another declaration of statehood - we already have one.
L.W.: Do you think that Prime Minister Netanyahu is serious about ending the occupation?
S.F.: We have not seen the kind of movement on the ground that is consistent with projecting this belief. Going back to June 2009, Netanyahu signaled for the first time a willingness to accept a two-state solution concept. But in terms of projecting that into effective support for a two-state reality, there is a serious distance to be traveled. What is the alternative to the Palestinian state as a solution to this conflict? There is no meaningful alternative.
Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor of the Washington Post.