Many great men and women have graced the Amphitheater Émile Boutmy at Sciences Po, among the likes include individuals who hold imperative stakes in the ever-changing politics of today’s modern world. In 2010, Sciences Po welcomed an elite guest list; some notably were the President of Georgia and the President of the European Union Council. February 4th proved no different, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority Salam Fayyad graced the Emile Boutmy Amphitheater for a conference titled “A Rendez-Vous with Freeedom, the Palestinian State Building Effort”.
Rooted in British de-colonization, the modern day Israeli-Palestinian conflict dates back to the beginning of the 20th century and continues to be a prime question in international affairs. Modern disputes on territory such as Jerusalem, the Gaza strip, and the West Bank play an increasing role in shifting alliances and consequently, the future of politics itself. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is one that pulls major actors in (notably the US and EU), and as a result changes the face of state cooperation and conflict.
Prime Minister Fayyad graduated with a doctorate degree in economics from the University of Texas and has worked intensively for the Inter Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and previously as the Palestinian Minister of Finance. The New York Times called him “the best hope for Palestine in a very long time” and he is praised for his non violent campaign for statehood. He answers a series of questions on the Sciences Po stage in regards to the current Palestinian effort towards an independent, unoccupied state. In the two hour question and answer process, he addressed anticipated obstacles and a hopeful future.
The Palestinian state- an imminent creation or abstract slogan?
Prime Minister Fayyad previously predicted that 2011 would be the year the world would see a concrete emergence of the Palestinian state. The August 26 date has been set for a transition that Fayyad calls “as natural as birth”; by which time Palestine intends to achieve a “state of readiness”. When questioned on his current assessment, Mr. Fayyad responds,
“I am highly optimistic… This conflict has been viewed as highly complex, with matters that are highly difficult to reconcile, that will take tremendous time and resources. Nevertheless, this is do-able.”
Do-able seems to be the charisma of the conference, where Fayyad illustrates the reality of an independent Palestinian state as opposed to a mere disillusioned dream. He highlights the importance of a realistic timeline and more importantly, healthy institutions. Mr. Fayyad goes on to emphasize the important role of institutions in realizing Palestinian ideals of human rights, openness, co-existence, and mutual respect. This, he says, is the seed of an independent state. Institutions which seek to better the health of the Palestinian peoples, to further their education, and promote democratic values are the pinnacle of Palestine.
Economically, Fayyad seeks a non-discriminative market with Israel instead of complete free trade. This, he says, avoids corruption and mal practice within the financial market. Today, Palestine is heavily dependent on the Israeli economy with 70% of Palestinian goods coming from Israel. Nonetheless, Fayyad sees interdependence as an opportunity to strengthen inter-state relations as well as the internal market.
However optimistic, the Prime Minister admits the political process has been disappointing, that the negotiating process with the Israeli government is “always difficult”. Many in the Middle East still scoff at Fayyad’s promises of a Palestinian state, but “Most importantly,” said the Prime Minister, “it is a Palestinian responsibility”. Mr. Fayyad attributes most political change on the will of the Palestinian people themselves, who he says have the pivotal power to aid or impair state reform.
Many South American countries (including Brazil and Argentina) alongside powerful international players like Russia have already recognized the right to an independent, free Palestinian state. However, in December 2010, both France and the US denied motions to internationally recognize the Palestinian state, favoring instead direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Come September 2011, Members of the United Nations meet for the General Assembly, at which time analysts predict Palestine will place a bid for state-hood.
Europe taking a more active political role
The European Union is a major financer of the Palestinian dream, largely funding military forces. PM Fayyad elaborates on the possibilities in which Europe could become more than a payer but a designer in the politics of the Palestinian state. He goes on to say that Europe is an ideal ally who is “intrinsically connected” to the Palestinian plan. By matching their political influence to their financial contribution, Fayyad is sure Europe will be able to illuminate a brighter Palestinian future.
The Missing Pieces
Largely missing was the address of cultural and ethnic disputes at the root of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Fayyad touched on an array of economic and political solutions to resolve the conflict, however strayed away from inciting any cultural implications. For many in international relations, the cultural tensions between the Arab and Jewish world remain a critical question en route to stability. What about, for example, Hamas, the political party representing 40% of Palestinians whose charter calls for violent Israeli destruction? Hamas is largely opposed to Fayyad, and for good reason. He seeks peaceful resolutions, with no tolerance for a violent overthrow and a complete belief in the power of social movements (he calls upon the lessons of modern Egypt).
The issue of nationality stands at the heart of this political conflict, and even more pressing is question of community cooperation. For much of the world, it is uncertain as to whether Israelis and Palestinians can ever achieve real peace, but Fayyad argues otherwise. He enshrines Israel’s rights to a whole and complete state, and believes in the power of peaceful negotiation and reciprocation. The missing pieces beg the question, even if Palestine achieves political state hood, can its peoples learn to accept and overcome cultural and religious disagreement?
Bright futures, dim lighting
One thing is sure; the formation of the Palestinian state begins with cooperation and communication. A lingering question is if both parties can mutually respect cultural barriers enough to negotiate and ultimately achieve peace. In lieu of these goals, Prime Minister Fayyad is a refreshing breath. Aesthetically, he smiles, speaks fluent English (to Israel’s dismay), and is proving more and more to be a favorable colleague at the international table. His reforms are historical, changing the face of Palestinian society. The cherry on top, he is an internationally respected economist. Past Palestinian diplomats are infamous for their attempts to undermine the Israeli government, de-legitimize their practices, and known for being difficult at the negotiating table. Fayyad is an inspirational counterpart, promoting a non-violent struggle against the backdrop of mutual support and transparent state institutions.
There is much more to be desired in the Palestinian state, but with Fayyad’s leadership and confident optimism, the Middle Eastern world promises imminent changes. When asked about the difficulties of the international community to accept the Palestinian state, PM Fayyad takes a moment, chuckles and replies, “We must roll with the change”.