Dr. Salam Fayyad is an ex-finance minister of the Palestinian National Authority, widely respected for his reform agenda. In the Palestinian legislative election of 2006 Fayyad ran as leader of the new Third Way political party alongside Hanan Ashrawi. Both Fayyad and Ashrawi currently represent their party, which won two seats, in the Legislative Council. What follows, courtesy of the American Task Force on Palestine, is his address to the seventh annual Herzliya Conference, January 24, 2007:
I would like to extend my thanks to the conference organizers for inviting me to speak before you. I recognize the importance of this conference – it is the very platform where major Israeli policies have been laid out including, most recently, unilateralism in the form of the Israeli “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip. As a Palestinian, who has felt the effects of these policies, it is my hope that today I will be able to shed some light on this issue, and on how together we can chart a new, brighter, more promising future for the Middle East – not just for our two peoples.
It would have been very easy for me to focus my talk today on economics and finance. But owing to the very important role that politics play in the success or failure of any economy and indeed the future of any state, I decided instead to focus my comments on matters of politics, leaving matters of economics and finance aside for the moment.
Examining the past six years of this conflict, I would characterize the Israeli-Palestinian relations over this period as having been too intimate – too intimate for the Palestinians and too intimate for the Israelis. You may be stunned by this characterization, for many have characterized it as the opposite. But the nature of relations today between Israelis and Palestinians has reached levels of micromanagement, where Israel is involved in the minute details of the lives of Palestinians.
It is important to remember that the entirety of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is ruled by military orders – not by politics, logic, or reason – but by military orders with “security” dictating the rules of the game. Whether through the erection of hundreds of checkpoints and roadblocks throughout the West Bank – most of which have no real security rationale, the requirement that Palestinians obtain permits to travel even within the West Bank or some of the absurd rules which are largely unknown to Israelis, the occupation has seeped into almost every aspect of Palestinian life. Take, for example, the recently announced prohibition on Palestinians riding in Israeli yellow-plated cars. While to many there is a clear security rationale, what is ignored are the ramifications of such policies.
I know many Jerusalemites for whom this new policy means that they cannot transport their own relatives who happen, by the fate of war, to be characterized as “West Bankers.” I also know many Palestinians – whether in Jerusalem or elsewhere – whose land has been taken away and whose families have been divided for the construction of the wall. These are the details to which few Israelis are exposed but the very reality that Palestinians continue to live and suffer from daily.
And, while I understand that in the design of these and other measures there may be a “security” rationale involved, the effect is not to create more security for Israel, but rather to create more conditions for future instability. Why? Because at its core, this conflict is NOT a security conflict with political ramifications but instead a POLITICAL conflict with security ramifications. Unfortunately, for the past six years, and arguably longer, the focus has been solely on security, ignoring the inherent link between Israel’s lack of security and the Palestinians’ lack of freedom. This is not a humanitarian conflict needing a humanitarian response, nor is this a security conflict requiring a security response. What we are both suffering from is a political conflict requiring a political solution.
There was once, arguably, a focus on the larger picture – beyond checkpoints, dirt mounds and permits – to major political issues: Jerusalem, borders, refugees, the settlements, etc. Unfortunately, the process took center stage and not the actual need for peace. While meetings between the two sides and with the international community abounded, what was ignored was whether progress was actually being made to end the conflict – the occupation – and give both peoples what they want: peace.
Today, meetings have been reduced to discussions on small, practical (and sometimes not so practical) issues that are peripheral to the conflict. By focusing on the peripheral, we are no closer to solving our problems and hence no closer to peace. We need to broaden our view and look to politics – not only to the small issues that are not germane to the fundamental nature of this conflict.
It is easy for Israel to shrug away and do nothing. Israel – as the stronger party to this conflict – has the luxury to do nothing. But in doing nothing, Israel is doing something: it is not contributing to solving this conflict; it is making it fester. Many believe that we are stuck between doing nothing and between unilateral approaches. Yet from our experience we should now know that neither approach works: both doing nothing and acting unilaterally only serve to make matters worse.
What then should be done? We need bifocals. Yes, bifocals. By that, I mean we need clear vision to address the short term and the long term. While it is important to address the immediate concerns that preoccupy Palestinians and Israelis on a daily basis, we need to do so within a framework that provides a clear and agreed definition of where we are going and how we are going to get there. Ever so skeptical of transitional solutions, the need for a concrete definition of the “final status” was, for a long time, perceived to be a predominantly Palestinian need. But, I would argue that the adverse developments of the past few years, including the misgivings of unilateralism, have made working toward transitional arrangements in the absence of an agreed final status equally unattractive from the point of view of Israelis as well.
A peaceful solution is inevitable. It is. It is impossible to maintain the status quo because the status quo is not static; it is fluid and, unfortunately only gets worse, not better. There is no question that there will be stability when the Palestinians are given their freedom. The vision that has been laid out by President Bush and embraced by President Abbas is that of peaceful coexistence. For Israelis, this means feeling safe and secure; for Palestinians this means being free of Israeli interference and also living in safety and security. But these are just statements. What I really want to lay out for you is a vision for positive relations; not just coexistence.
Palestinians have a vision of peace. We want our state to be a qualitative addition to the region and model of democratic values and good governance. When I speak of good governance I mean it concretely – not as a lofty and unattainable goal but one in which the rule of law and not the rule of the gun will prevail. Palestinians have the highest rate of PhD holders per capita in the Arab world (I am one of those statistics), and our focus will be on creating a generation of smart, educated Palestinians who will demand no less than a credible system of laws and respect for rights.
Many might ask why this has not happened already? The answer lies mainly in the occupation and the lack of freedom for the Palestinians. When you live in a context where there is no respect for laws under a suffocating and oppressive occupation, it is very difficult to demand and enforce civility.
That said, I will never use occupation as an excuse to allow ourselves to be sloppy or lax in the building of our state. As a Palestinian nationalist and someone who is committed to working to end the occupation, I will demand certain things from our independent Palestinian state on behalf of all Palestinians. I want to see a state that is free, where respect for rights is guaranteed (not simply sloganized), where education is at the fore, and where democracy is guiding principle.
These are matters that are of concern to Israel. But more importantly, I want to spell out a vision of peace with Israel. I seek a warm peace with Israel. I don’t want it so warm that you are in our backyard as you are now, but I seek a warm peace. I seek strong political ties with Israel; I seek strong economic ties between the independent states of Israel and Palestine. I seek warm relations with Israelis. Yes, we seek warm relations with you. We do not want to simply get to a point where we just accept each other – we want to have warm relations where we both recognize the mutual economic, political, intellectual and spiritual benefits of living and working together. We do not want to erect walls; we want to see bridges. We do not want to close you out of our lives – we want to live with you – as your neighbors and as your equals.
At heart, I am an optimist. Why? How? After so much effort from all parties and after such spectacular failure, many question how I can persist in my optimism. The answer lies in the fact that I know that there is a great deal of depth of goodwill on both sides, and on the part of the international community.
This does not mean that the solution will be easy. It won’t. If it were, obviously we would have been there. Political and other sacrifices are required and we will need to be bold and explain to our respective publics what we want and how to achieve it.
Time is running out for us. Time is not on our side. I am part of the last generation of Palestinians who see Israelis in normal settings, who meets with Israelis and who can call Israelis “friends.” The cold separation coupled with the micromanagement of affairs must disappear soon, for if it does not, we will never be able to live together as equals with mutual respect. In Arabic, there is a saying which is, ironically, the opposite of its English language counterpart – “absence makes the heart grow colder.” As a father and husband, I fear that our hearts are growing colder the more that we are separated. I want a future for my children and I am certain that you do too. The future that I seek is a warm, bright one for them. And I know that you share this vision too. Too much time has been wasted. It is time for us to get back on track and work to end this conflict so that our children’s future can be marked by Palestinian-Israeli friendships; not Palestinian-Israeli conflict.