Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and I are both graduates of the same university, the University of Texas at Austin. When I told him this morning that the Longhorn football team was #4 in the preseason rankings, he said, “That’s good, it’s bad when they are too high.”
Fayyad’s caution about his beloved Texas Longhorns is typical of his diplomatic approach to the problems of Palestinian statehood. This morning, after he greeted our small group at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah, Fayyad spoke for nearly 40 minutes about the progress his country has made in building its infrastructure, especially its national security force.
“We have to actually become a state if we are ever going to be a state,” Fayyad said, and kept returning to this point throughout his comments and answers to our questions.
Salam Fayyad is a man who has the respect of the Israeli government and the international community. Under Fayyad’s leadership, the United States began, three years ago, to provide its financial assistance directly to the PA rather than passing it through Israel.
But the development of a civil society, the hallmark of Fayyad’s policy, is not without its difficulties. For example, I asked him about the problem of Palestinian development in the so-called “Area C,” the portion of the West Bank where 300,000 Israeli settlers live.
Both Area A and C have developed significantly under the leadership of President Abbas and Fayyad, but things are going slowly in Area C where Palestinians are outnumbered by settlers and every aspect of development requires the red tape of Israeli permits.
“Yes, Area C is a problem, and it will be a problem as we move toward the two-state solution, but I am hopeful it can be resolved,” Fayyad told us. There is nothing forced about Fayyad’s optimism, if anything he is more relaxed and hopeful than when I had dinner with him and Bob Novak three years ago — he was Finance Minister at the time.
Perhaps the most memorable portion of his remarks came when Fayyad described the change in the Palestinian town of Nablus over the past eight years.
“There was a time when young men, and even boys, ran around the town with rifles. Some of these boys did not have their beards yet. But people have grown tired of that and realized it was not getting us anywhere. Those guns are gone now, and our own security forces keep the order.”
Fayyad was very generous to give us the time he did, given that the possibility of direct negotiations with the Israelis may be only a few weeks away.
Throughout our trip, we received indication that those negotiations are a very real possibility before the moratorium runs out in late September. If direct negotiations do occur, both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership will be loudly criticized from the right in both their countries.
But, as an Israeli general said to me this afternoon, “The time will never be perfect for negotiations, so we must do something now and figure out how to make it work.”