Former Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayyad on Friday lamented that the Palestinians have been plagued by “failed leadership.”
He described Israel’s occupation of the territories as the “biggest problem” facing the Palestinians, but also heaped blame on fellow Palestinian leaders, and made clear he would be going through with his resignation this time. Within three to four weeks, he would step down as acting prime minister — the role he had agreed to fill temporarily since his resignation in order to give PA President Mahmoud Abbas time to find a replacement.
Fayyad, an internationally respected economist, resigned last month after bitter conflicts with Abbas and his Fatah movement, which dominates the Palestinian Authority.
“Our story is a story of failed leadership, from way early on,” Fayyad told the New York Times. “It is incredible that the fate of the Palestinian people has been in the hands of leaders so entirely casual, so guided by spur-of-the-moment decisions, without seriousness. We don’t strategize, we cut deals in a tactical way and we hold ourselves hostage to our own rhetoric.”
He said that the dominant Fatah party “is going to break down, there is so much disenchantment… Students have lost 35 days this year through strikes. We are broke. The status quo is not sustainable…”
“If you look like a state and act like a state, nobody in the end is going to deny you that state,” said Fayyad of his vision of the path to Palestinian statehood. He indicated, however, that the PA had not been behaving like a state under this or previous leaderships.
“In the end, it did not matter what any foreign power told me about things changing for the better, because I am living it. I have gone through hell before. But it’s enough. This much poison is bound to cause something catastrophic. The system is not taking, the country is suffering. They are not going to change their ways and therefore I must go,” he said.
Nonetheless, Israel’s occupation of the territories was the “biggest problem,” he said. His interviewer, Roger Cohen, indicated that Fayyad felt Israel had offered “no quid pro quo” for Palestinian progress, and no forward movement despite Fayyad’s support for a just two-state solution, his opposition to violence, and his track-record of building viable institutions.
“The Israelis have not rolled back the occupation gene,” Fayyad said. “Let’s make sure our Bedouin population in the Jordan Valley has access to drinking water before we discuss final arrangements. This is a right-to-life issue for Palestinians,” he said.
Fayyad added that he had told US President Barack Obama that “the shack must come before the skyscraper,” meaning that elementary issues must be resolved for a peace agreement to become feasible.
Fayyad told the newspaper that the US, as it struggles to facilitate new negotiations, needed to ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a straightforward question: What does he mean by a Palestinian state? “A state of leftovers is not going to do it,” warned Fayyad.
He said the lack of leadership was apparent not only on the Palestinian side, but on the Israeli side too, stressing that the Israeli public should be informed and educated about the Palestinian issue. He suggested that Netanyahu tell Israelis that “Yes, it is true we have a contract with God Almighty who gave us the land, but there happen to be 4.4 million other people on this land who want to exercise their right to self-determination, so perhaps we can adjust the divine contract a little.”
He also said that Jerusalem would have to make real compromises and concessions in order to make peace initiatives feasible. “Israel says no this, no that, and it’s taken as a foregone conclusion,” he said. “There’s nothing to underpin the US initiative. So how can you invest in it?”
Fayyad also addressed the Fatah-Hamas dispute, declaring that Hamas must renounce violence to create “conditions for takeoff” for a Palestinian unity government. The Palestinians must unite behind “a security doctrine based on non-violence,” he said.
Nonetheless, Fayyad’s concluding statements were relatively sanguine, stressing that he had not given up on the Palestinian Authority’s leadership or on an active role for himself later on.
“I will reflect, and if [new Palestinian] elections come, as they must because they are vital, I will see how best to take part in them,” he said.
“I resigned my job, that’s all,” Fayyad said. “I am not resigned, even if it pains me additionally when lack of progress is self-inflicted. I will die without changing my mind that we Palestinians can prove the doubters wrong.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.