Interview with Former Palestinian Authority PM: “Two-State Solution Still Possible”

Recently, I had a series of meetings with Salam Fayyad, former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. The first meeting was part of seminars I am hosting at the Middle East Study Centre that I am directing in Britain. Other participants in this conversation were Sir Tom Phillips and Sir Vincent Fean. Phillips served as British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, UK Ambassador to Israel, and High Commissioner to Uganda. Fean was the British Ambassador to Libya and Consul-General in Jerusalem for the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

I asked Prof. Fayyad how to explain Hamas’s popularity among the Palestinians. Fayyad responded by saying that Hamas has been on the path of ascendancy, politically speaking, for a long time. During the mid-1990s, they were polling at about 12% -13%. Over time, their popularity rose, and more and more Palestinians found themselves aligned with their ideology and worldview, particularly because of the failure of the Oslo peace process. The Palestinian public at large realized that this process was not going to deliver on its promise of freedom and statehood for the Palestinians in the occupied territories.

With the prospect of statehood diminishing rapidly over time, past the year 2000, more and more Palestinians found themselves aligned with Hamas’s worldview. It is the failure of the peace process that accounts for Hamas’s ascendancy, argued Fayyad. Second, there were missteps in the way Palestinian governance was handled over the years. Third, the way successive Israeli governments dealt with the Palestinian Authority undermined the PA’s capacity to govern, project its authority and convince people that it was the nucleus of the state in the making.

The PA became progressively weaker and weaker. Conversely, the competing ideology or philosophy of Hamas and like-minded factions gained in popularity and standing among the Palestinian people, wherever they are.

Palestinian Hamas militants take part in an anti-Israel rally in Gaza City May 22, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)

Fayyad maintained that Hamas is a political force to be reckoned with, an ideology to be reckoned with. It is impossible to confront a movement like this by trying to eliminate it physically; “that’s just an exercise in futility.”

I asked Prof. Fayyad what the relationship between Hamas and the PLO is nowadays. Fayyad responded that there is no formal relation between the two. Hamas never has been a component of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). There were attempts to incorporate Hamas into the PLO during the 1990s. Yasser Arafat attempted to include Hamas in the Palestine National Council (PNC), the Palestinian parliament, offering Hamas a certain percentage, less than 50%, of delegates by agreement, not by elections. But no agreement was reached.

THERE WERE also several rounds of talks in what became known as the Cairo dialogue, leading to some understandings as to how the Palestinian body politic can be reconstituted. In 2007, after Hamas took over Gaza, there were many negotiations. The PLO and Hamas agreed to form a national government but this agreement did not last for long. Factionalism, factional rivalries, dominated the Palestinian body politic for many decades.

Fayyad: Gaza will always be part of the national Palestinian project

I asked Fayyad about the day after the war. What in his opinion is the preferred solution? Fayyad responded that the Palestinian Authority should assume that responsibility. Fayyad maintained: “thinking about imposing an arrangement on Palestinians to manage Gaza, and the day after, is something that I really caution against.” Gaza is, was, and will always be an integral part of the Palestinian national project, said Fayyad.

Therefore, the PA must establish itself in Gaza audaciously, backed by national consensus. Then the PA can immediately begin to assume that responsibility, acting through a government that’s consented to by everybody, including Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

I asked Fayyad whether he has a personal future in the Palestinian Authority and Fayyad responded in the negative, saying “I honestly think of no such future.”

Phillips asked Fayyad whether a two-state solution is still possible. Fayyad responded in the positive, saying that the solution is a sovereign Palestinian state on the territory occupied in 1967: “The principle that we Palestinians are a people, and therefore entitled to national rights as all other nations and peoples around the world, is something that is not open to discussion at all.”

Fean asked Fayyad whether mutual security is essential for negotiations and Fayyad said it is essential: “Unless security is underpinned by a political accommodation, it’s not going to be sustainable. That is clear. What you need as a basic minimum is a period during which there is an iron-clad commitment to basic nonviolence.” Fayyad said that the present war is “a major catastrophe” for the Palestinians, besetting them for many decades to come. The Palestinian leadership must deal with the scars of this war is the foremost priority, “rebuilding of the psyche, of the soul, of the spirit… to summon the will to persevere.”

The writer is chair in politics and director of The Middle East Study Centre at The University of Hull, United Kingdom.