By Howard Schneider
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
ABU DIS, West Bank, June 22 -- Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Monday called for the establishment of a Palestinian state within two years, a timeline he said is possible if Israel upholds its existing commitments and Palestinians "roll up their sleeves" and concentrate on building government and civic institutions.
In comments directed as much at the Islamist Hamas movement as at Israel, Fayyad said competing Palestinian factions need to take advantage of international support for the creation of a Palestinian state, something the Obama administration is pushing as a priority.
Hamas controls the Gaza Strip and has been responsible for thousands of rocket and mortar attacks against Israel in recent years. The group evicted forces aligned with the rival Fatah party from the area in 2007.
The two sides have held numerous rounds of reconciliation talks, mediated by Egypt, and more discussions are expected next month. The United States and others have called on Hamas to end its armed resistance and join the other Palestinian groups that recognized Israel under the 1993 Oslo accords.
Fayyad, a political independent long at odds with Hamas, did not mention the Islamist group by name. But he focused much of his speech on unifying the Palestinian government in advance of possible elections next year, considered a necessity if peace talks with the Israelis are to succeed. In particular, he said all Palestinians should recognize the Palestinian Authority as responsible for security and should help create the institutions that will "embody" the future state.
"There is no pluralism in security. The Palestinian Authority is solely responsible," said Fayyad, a former World Bank economist credited by the United States and Israel with reorganizing the authority's finances and its security forces. "We have to put a stop to this senseless argumentation. I call upon you all to line up on the project of state-building, good government and proper management so the Palestinian state can be a reality."
In what amounted to the formal Palestinian response to recent speeches by Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Fayyad spoke at Al-Quds University. The institution's name invokes the Arab word for Jerusalem. More than the name was symbolic: The university is located in a town that is ostensibly a suburb of the holy city but is now cut off from it by the security barrier Israel has erected around much of the occupied West Bank.
Fayyad's comments hit upon many of the standard Palestinian touchstones -- demands for a Palestinian capital in the eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem and an immediate freeze on Israeli settlements -- and criticized Netanyahu's recent speech for focusing on historical arguments rather than concrete steps to reach peace.
But, before an audience that included many top Palestinian government and religious figures, Fayyad also told "our Israeli neighbors" that "we have one main aspiration -- to live in dignity in a patrimony that is ours."
"We hope to embody our state next to your state through a meaningful peace," he said. "We do not wish to build walls but bridges."
Netanyahu's office did not respond to Fayyad's remarks. A longtime opponent of Palestinian statehood, Netanyahu has said that he is willing to support the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state but that it will take time to build the institutions and economy needed for it to be successful.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, whose organization rejects Fayyad's status as prime minister, dismissed the speech and said that the expanded working relationship between Palestinian and Israeli security forces under Fayyad is "the greatest danger" facing Palestinians, news agencies reported from Gaza.
Special correspondent Samuel Sockol contributed to this report.