"If only we could clone him," a senior U.S. official said to me recently, speaking about Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Held in great respect by foreigners, Fayyad may soon find himself out of a job if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (also called Abu Mazen) forges a national unity government with Hamas. This past week, Fayyad sat down in Ramallah with the Washington Post's Lally Weymouth. Excerpts:
L.W.: What is going on with the formation of the Fatah-Hamas unity government? Does Palestinian Authority President Abu Mazen favor its creation? Does Hamas want it?
S.F.: The process has taken the form of what I call rounds of dialogue. Most recently, something came out under the heading of the Doha Declaration. It said there would be a government of technocrats, headed by President Abbas himself, for a transitional period during which preparation would take place for elections.
About three weeks ago, that understanding was adjusted in the course of another round of dialogue in Cairo, where there was a decoupling of the act of conducting elections from the act of putting together a government. Doha was signed by [Hamas leader] Khaled Meshal and Abu Mazen. But that agreement did not find support within Hamas in Gaza.
L.W.: So in Cairo the negotiators said there was no need to have elections after the formation of a national unity government?
S.F.: The link became a lot weaker under the Cairo formulation between the act of conducting elections and putting together this transitional government headed by Abu Mazen. ...
After the Doha Declaration, Hamas would not allow the independent elections commission to go to Gaza to update the voter registry. That has not been done for years now. But after the Cairo accord, which happened about three weeks ago, they allowed the commission to go and prepare for updating the registry. If you ask me, I am not convinced that there is seriousness about elections.
L.W.: On the part of Hamas? Or also on the part of Abu Mazen?
S.F.: On the part of Hamas for sure. I will just leave it there.
L.W.: Wasn't Abu Mazen elected a long time ago?
S.F.: He was elected in January of 2005.
L.W.: For one four-year term?
L.W.: And the parliament was elected when?
S.F.: In January 2006.
L.W.: And that was also for one four-year term?
S.F.: Yes, they are both overdue.
L.W.: What do people think about that?
S.F.: The key problem of the attempt at reconciliation is the lack of seriousness about elections for sure on the part of Hamas. It is a well-known fact borne out by various opinion polls that there has been a steady erosion in Hamas' standing, both in the West Bank and Gaza. I believe that is why they have been dodging elections.
L.W.: Because they would lose?
S.F.: That's a good reason.
L.W.: It's reported that Hamas wants to make inroads in the West Bank.
S.F.: It's true. Hamas ran the country—both Gaza and the West Bank—over the period of March 2006 to March 2007. It was a Hamas-only government. Their experience in government was not really very successful, and everyone knows it. There was a financial freeze placed on the Palestinian Authority. The banking system started to disintegrate. It was not a good experience. Then there was a national unity government for three months. I was in that government as finance minister. But then that government collapsed under the severe blow of the violent takeover by Hamas in Gaza. Since then, they have been the de facto authority in Gaza. ... And people have lived under that regime for five full years now. ...
[But] in a situation like we are in right now in Palestine, it doesn't mean they have no shot at winning elections.