SPIEGEL Interview with Palestinian Prime Minister 'An Independent Palestine Will Be Inevitable'
In a SPIEGEL interview, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, 59, discusses controversial plans by the Palestinians to apply for member state status at the United Nations this Friday and why he believes the action should not be considered a unilateral move.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, will you go down in history as the founding father of Palestine?
Fayyad: I don't know if there will be a Palestinian state during my term in office, but I have no doubt that it will happen.
SPIEGEL: In recent years, you have been busy building schools and roads, reforming the administration and moving toughly to combat terrorism. Is Palestine ready for independence?
Fayyad: Yes, we are ready. And it's not just me saying that -- it is also organizations like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations. They already confirmed in April that the Palestinian Authority had crossed its threshold for relevance for statehood. To me, this is a birth certificate for our state. Even if Israel hasn't ended its occupation, the reality of Palestinian statehood projected on the ground is going to create so much de facto pressure that an independent Palestine will be inevitable.
SPIEGEL: You have named your two-year political program, which expires in the next few days, "Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State." Did you promise too much?
Fayyad: A lot of people described this program as ambitious, and I was one of them at the beginning. But we are now a lot closer to freedom than we would have been otherwise. Of course I am disappointed about the fact that the political process has failed to deliver, and that it is unlikely to deliver us from the Israeli occupation in September or shortly thereafter.
SPIEGEL: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to give a speech at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 23 and to ask shortly thereafter for the recognition of Palestine as a member state in the UN Security Council. Are you in favor of going to the Security Council even if that means a confrontation with the United States, which has announced it would veto the application?
Fayyad: If I thought for a moment that it would be possible to become a full-fledged member of the UN that way, I would definitely go for it. But there is a gap between what I'd like to have, and what I can have. If it is as certain that it will be a failed motion at the Security Council, as it is generally believed to be, then I would say: Let us pursue a path that is more inclusive, that ensures that we act hand in hand with our friends in the international community. We should have the largest possible alliance behind us so that the European Union will not be divided by this vote.
SPIEGEL: Europe is already divided. Germany spoke out earlier this year against the UN initiative, but France and Spain tend to support it.
Fayyad: I can't call that divided. What we are doing is consistent with the European Union's consensus position of 2009, which was affirmed last year. What if, just as an illustration, we go to the UN General Assembly and present a draft resolution where the preamble is taken verbatim from the European Council's 2009 position? No one could then tell me why the European Union should oppose it.
SPIEGEL: At most, the UN would be able to bestow Palestine with the rank of a non-member observer state -- similar to the Vatican.
Fayyad: If the UN states that Palestine is state ready, then that validation alone would be a major accomplishment for us Palestinians.
SPIEGEL: But Palestine would still be far away from becoming an independent state.
Fayyad: The UN itself does not recognize countries -- countries recognize one another. After the declaration of our independence made by our late President Yasser Arafat in 1988, many countries recognized Palestine. In recent months, there has been a significant addition to the already long list of countries that recognize Palestine. Countries are moving to recognize us, and countries are upgrading our representation in their capitals. Creative frameworks are being found for dealing with the Palestinian Authority as if it were a sovereign state. The world has recognized us already.
SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, many important countries are still holding back support for your UN bid -- especially Germany, which is doing so out of consideration for Israel. Are you disappointed?
Fayyad: There is no way you are going to get me to say I'm disappointed when it comes to friends like Germany. I'll tell you what I'm generally disappointed by: The reflexive response and the argument that we are acting unilaterally. This is not unilateralism! This is not about the unilateral declaration of statehood. Our political objective is a sovereign state on 22 percent of the British Mandate for Palestine. This is the full embodiment of the two-state solution. Isn't this what the government of Israel asserts it wants?
SPIEGEL: The most recent negotiations with Israel collapsed a year ago. Do you still believe in the peace process?
Fayyad: Of course. Negotiations with Israel are needed. There can be no solution without a political process.
SPIEGEL: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas haven't met with each other since then.
Fayyad: The problem with negotiations is not a lack of them. I find it most regrettable that, after 18 years, it is no longer clear what we are talking about. We negotiate over principles rather than assurances and arrangements. But what we need are firm agreements instead of wasting time to extract short statements.
SPIEGEL: In the meantime, Israel continues to expand settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. A growing number of Palestinians are starting to feel that the idea of a Palestinian state is becoming increasingly unrealistic. Does the two-state solution still stand a chance?
Fayyad: We are all too conscience of the adverse facts on the ground that continue to appear to be inconsistent with the need for a Palestinian state. I not only still believe that the two-state solution is possible, but also that people should not rush to declare it dead either. Because what exactly is the alternative? This is a question that Israel must address.
SPIEGEL: Without negotiations and UN membership, your state-building project could soon fizzle out.
Fayyad: I agree. I was perhaps the first who said: Whatever we do must be seen as an exercise that will lead to the end of the Israeli occupation. It is not part of an effort to adapt to the reality of a prolonged occupation.
SPIEGEL: Israel has announced it will take retaliatory measures in response to the UN initiative. Do you fear a fresh outbreak of violence?
Fayyad: Non-violence is a strategic choice of ours, and it is something that I personally believe has immense power. I will not relinquish that path. At the same time, our people have the right to self-expression. It is not a crime if our people demonstrate for their freedom.
SPIEGEL: Many Palestinians are looking longingly to Egypt and Libya, two countries where the people have succeeded in rising up for their freedom. They may think: Why don't we do that as well?
Fayyad: The Arab spring started in Palestine long before it broke out in the rest of the Arab world. What are these uprisings all about? They are about government leadership and citizen's rights. That is exactly what we launched in our program two years ago: full citizens' rights, enfranchisement and a government for the people. But you have something different in mind: People who go into the streets to demonstrate against the occupation. You're not talking to someone who's hostile to that. I'm an ardent supporter of non-violent resistance. This is a part of what we have to do.
SPIEGEL: How would you prevent these protests from spinning out of control?
Fayyad: I have to answer with a question: Why is it that the government of Israel does not deal with non-violent demonstrations on the Palestinian side in the same way they deal with non-violent demonstrations on the streets of Tel Aviv?
SPIEGEL: Where hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been protesting for a change in domestic policy for weeks now.
Fayyad: There are no rubber bullets in Tel Aviv, there is no tear-gas; and if there was, then I am certain that they didn't target the gas canisters at any people. No one accepts it. Israelis don't accept it. The occupation oppresses us, but it is also corrosive to Israeli society.
SPIEGEL: Israel is threatening to cease transferring tax money and customs duties to the Palestinian Authority if it proceeds with the membership bid at the UN. You could be out of money very soon.
Fayyad: We're already in the midst of a crisis. The payment of salaries is difficult even now.
SPIEGEL: Would the Palestinian Authority collapse if Israel stopped the flow of money?
Fayyad: We are already reducing our budget in order to substantially reduce our reliance on aid. Some people use the crisis as evidence that we can't exist as our own state. They say: Look, they don't even have money to pay salaries. But there are dozens of countries that have existed for decades that have had to live through similar crises. Does that disqualify them from being states? No.
SPIEGEL: This is your fourth year as prime minister and yet you have never been elected. Is Palestine democratic?
Fayyad: I consider myself to be a democrat. And therefore, I was excited when there was an agreement between the two Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, to end the separation between them. We have to overcome this separation in order to become a fully functioning democracy.
SPIEGEL: Will there soon be a joint government with Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip?
Fayyad: Why not? What are we going to do? Split up the country? I am someone who looks forward to the day when reconciliation happens.
Interview conducted by Juliane von Mittelstaedt