Before I arrived in Israel a few weeks ago, I’d read that Israeli President Shimon Peres had likened Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, to David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s George Washington. So I was intrigued when, on my first night in Jerusalem, the conversation at my Israeli friends’ Sabbath table was about the impressive speech Fayyad had delivered to the princes of Israel’s security establishment at the recent Herzliya conference.
Fayyad, an American-educated economist (MBA, St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas; PhD in economics, University of Texas) who worked at the World Bank for eight years and served as Palestine’s representative to the International Monetary Fund, reportedly had declared his government’s objective–two states living side by side in peace and security–and then set forth his blueprint for the unilateral creation of a Palestinian state in spite of the Israeli occupation, as a crucial step toward ending it.
With assistance from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US General Keith Dayton, Fayyad had already completed more than a thousand community development projects, formed the nucleus of a Central Bank, invested millions in improving infrastructure, schools, roads, clinics, electricity and water systems. Most impressively (to Israelis, at least), thanks to his newly trained Palestinian security forces, law and order had improved so dramatically that Israel had removed many of its roadblocks and checkpoints, which, in turn, had benefited Palestinian trade and tourism, created jobs, stimulated consumer spending and, according to the IMF, yielded a 7 percent increase in economic growth in 2009.
As part of a six-person delegation from Americans for Peace Now, I would be meeting Salam Fayyad at the end of a week’s worth of meetings. But between the night at my friends’ dinner table and the day I sat at the prime minister’s right in a conference room in Ramallah, I would hear a lot more about him from people who knew a lot more about him.
One impressed observer was Yossi Alpher, an Israeli security maven who spent twelve years in the Mossad, ran the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, produced "The Alpher Plan," a detailed blueprint for territorial compromise, and now co-edits the online political journal bitterlemons.org with a Palestinian colleague, Ghassan Khatib. Alpher said he had scant hopes for the upcoming "proximity talks," George Mitchell’s projected shuttle diplomacy between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), but there were three avenues Israel should take to break the impasse on the peace process: Jump-start the Syrian track. Talk to Hamas. And support Salam Fayyad’s state-building program.
In the years since the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords, huge sums of money had been wasted by the Palestinian Authority, said Alpher, "but Fayyad is now delivering on all fronts–security, economic development, a judicial system, prisons, even a bar code system, and he’s wrapping it in a comprehensive program.
"If there is no movement in the peace process, Fayyad, who is both the finance minister and prime minister of the PA, has threatened to go straight to the UN and ask for recognition of the Palestinian state. The problem is, he represents the Palestinian Authority, not the PLO, which is the entity with whom we negotiate. If the PA issues a unilateral declaration of independence, it will be seen as canceling the Oslo Accords [which prohibit unilateral action]."