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Leader Salam Fayyad seeks to make Palestinian statehood inevitable

'It's not about legacy. It's about a state that will be born this year,' the prime minister says.

January 21, 2011|By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Ramallah, West Bank — Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad acknowledged that significant obstacles lay ahead on the road to statehood, but insisted his government will be ready by this summer. Fayyad spoke to the Los Angeles Times about what work still needs to be done, whether he'd like to be Palestinian Authority president one day and why he continues to "confound" Israelis.

With U.S. peace talks collapsed, is it time for Palestinians to shift strategies? Should your state-building program, targeted for completion in August, become the primary focus?

Getting ready for statehood, by itself, is not going to end the occupation. It's necessary, but not sufficient. You need a political process to deliver on that. We thought by saying we expect to be ready for statehood in August, it would direct the political process in a better way. It has not, so far. But that doesn't mean that there is no diplomacy. Negotiations are just an element. They don't define all the political activity. We are still engaging the international community. There's still a sense of urgency. Every day I wake up thinking we are not really that far from the point of inflection in a positive way.

You think we're on the verge of a breakthrough?

I don't use the word breakthrough. I'm looking for a point of inflection.

Palestinians seem to be turning more to the international community for either a draft peace plan or statehood recognition. Is that the new strategy?

A key objective of this is to get to the point this year — by virtue of creating a critical mass of positive change on the ground and consistent with the urgent need for Palestinian statehood — where the world cannot escape the conclusion that Palestinians are ready for statehood. For a long time, people said, "Yes, it's an occupation that must end, but Palestinians still have to do A, B and C." Once you get the whole world thinking that we are ready for a state — that it looks like a state, that there are government processes, infrastructure — then the only thing left to deal with is ending the occupation.

It's only eight months away. Will you really be ready?

I believe so. Our institutions will be state-ready by August.

You're are praised for making great strides with managing finances; the police force is more professional; and ministries are open. Yet many see the accomplishments as transitory and superficial, questioning whether they would survive without you as prime minister. Courts are still very weak. The parliament barely functions. That's a lot of work ahead.

A lot has been done that was once viewed as virtually impossible. Just as we were able to turn around things that were perceived as impossible, we're going to be able to do the rest of it. In mid-2007, the whole country was on the brink of complete disintegration. But now look at the police. Look at surveys of public opinion, where people contrast the services today. In other areas, we are already there. In financial management, we have a system that measures up to the highest international standards, as evidenced by the fact that our key donors transfer assistance directly to our treasury. For a long time, the Palestinian Authority was associated with nothing but corruption. That's a major change.

The Palestinian Authority has also put off elections because of the split between the Fatah-led government in the West Bank and Hamas-led government in the Gaza Strip. Can you have a state if you can't have elections?

We're not looking at a state that is going to be an autocracy. We are looking for a state that is run based on democratic principles. Elections are an important part. We have not been able to have elections for obvious reasons. We face major problems with the [split] since 2007, and it's become deeper.

Can you have a state before reuniting?

That's a major problem. Unless we are able to reunite the country, we're not going to be able to have a state. The state we are looking for is a state based on the 1967 borders, including Gaza Strip.

Is it time to start thinking about two Palestinian states and give up on hopes of reuniting Fatah and Hamas?

I'm never going to give up on that. It will never be. I believe there will never be a state of Palestine unless it consists of both Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. There will never be a Palestinian state without Gaza.

That's not likely to happen before August. If this deadline comes and there's no state, don't you think Palestinians are going to be disappointed? Will it look as if you failed?

I don't worry too much about the perception of me having failed, though fear of failure is a huge source of motivation. That aside, I don't think this way. I'm really a man of one plan, one scenario. I don't think of Plan B. I think it will work.

You don't think you should perhaps lower expectations or start backing away from a deadline that will almost certainly be missed?

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