Salam Fayyad: Palestine's P.M. on Building a State

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad helps farmers pick olives in Ramallah, Palestine, in October 2010. Zhao Yue / XinHua-Getty Images

You're still working on your plan [to build an independent Palestinian state]. You have nine months left. Will it be ready? I think so. My vision is for better-functioning institutions for the state, more adequate infrastructure, various services.

Is there a specific date? The 26th of August.

On the 26th of August you'll say, "I have a state." No, that's when we're supposed to have attained a state of readiness. The reality of it will grow on you.

So you believe in the power of optimism? Most definitely.

How do you explain the fact that most Israelis don't believe in the possibility of peace anymore? Right now, in all the opinion polls, there is still a majority that favors a two-state solution, both in Palestine and Israel.

But most Israelis don't believe it's possible. As we build more, as we create more and more facts on the ground…this has enormous power. I'm betting on change, positive change.

Let's assume you succeed. There is still Gaza. Why should we talk with you at all if Gaza is not part of it? That is also thinking of matters in a static way.

Really? What if we were really to begin to think, for a change, of what is possible, rather than of what is not possible?

OK. What is possible in Jerusalem? What is possible in Jerusalem is for East Jerusalem to be viewed just like the rest of the West Bank—territory seized by Israel in 1967.

These kinds of answers frighten Israelis very much. The last thing in the world I want is to frighten the Israelis.

Would you say the wall [the border fence Israel has built in recent years] was useful to your efforts? The wall? Useful?

I'm thinking of Ben-Gurion, who talked about the Arab shutdown of the Jaffa harbor in the 1930s. He said, well, it compelled us to build our own. The wall has basically resulted in the loss of a significant portion of the West Bank. It is not a permanent loss of land and we do not accept it, but it appears to me as though it was intended to achieve that goal.

I mention Ben-Gurion because, at least in Israel, everyone compares you to him. Do you find it offensive? Why would I find it offensive? I have said on many occasions that the [institutions of the] state of Israel were established before [a state was proclaimed], and in a sense there is a parallel.

You once stated that Israeli settlers can be Palestinian citizens. Do you still believe that? Yes, as equal citizens with equal rights.

But you know [the settlers] won't agree to it. The Palestinian state will be open and based on full nondiscrimination on any basis whatsoever, whether religious, gender, ethnic, or whatever, respectful of the rights, aspirations, and concerns of others, where there is democracy and the rights of minorities are protected by a constitution.

I once interviewed Ben-Gurion, many years ago. He was also very optimistic, but I don't know if most of your people are as optimistic. They are more optimistic today than a few years ago. That's for sure.

I'm not as optimistic as you are. For the first time I share the feeling that peace is not possible. If you had asked me 40 years ago if we'll have peace in 2010, I would have said yes. I don't even know if my son, who just got married six months ago, is doing the right thing by building his life in Israel. If you succumb to this feeling, and people do, we will be left to the mercy of game changers. And game changers in this neighborhood have tended to be not very positive, as you know.

Do you really think Israeli society is capable of making the necessary concessions? Occupation is oppressive to us, and it's corrosive to Israelis. There'll be convergence, believe me. This will happen. I honestly, wholeheartedly believe that this will happen.

Segev is a Haaretz columnist and the author most recently of 'Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legends.'