Palestinian National Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said Saturday that Jews would enjoy freedom and civil rights in a future Palestinian state.
Fayyad addressed the subject in response to a question from former CIA director James Woolsey at the Aspen Institute’s Aspen Ideas Festival, which included a day of panels on different aspects of the current state of the Middle East.
Woolsey said there are a million Arabs in Israel, accounting for one-sixth of the Israeli population, and that “generally they enjoy the guarantees that Americans look for in the Bill of Rights.”
“Now, if there is to be the rule of law in a Palestinian state, and if Jews want to live in someplace like Hebron, or anyplace else in a Palestinian state, for whatever reasons or historical attachments, why should they not be treated the same way Israeli Arabs are?” Woolsey asked. “That would be, there could be a sixth of the population consisting of them. They could vote for real representatives in a real Palestinian legislature, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and most importantly, be able to go to the sleep at night without worrying someone is going to kick down the door and kill them.”
Fayyad responded by saying, “I’m not going to disagree with you. And I’m not someone who will say that they would or should be treated differently than Israeli Arabs are treated in Israel.
“In fact the kind of state that we want to have, that we aspire to have, is one that would definitely espouse high values of tolerance, co-existence, mutual respect and deference to all cultures, religions. No discrimination whatsoever, on any basis whatsoever.
“Jews to the extent they choose to stay and live in the state of Palestine will enjoy those rights and certainly will not enjoy any less rights than Israeli Arabs enjoy now in the state of Israel,” Fayyad said.
The crowd at the Greenwald Pavilion applauded enthusiastically.
Then Tom Friedman of The New York Times, who had been interviewing Fayyad before taking questions, recognized Martin Indyk, the former American ambassador to Israel, who was in the audience.
Indyk complimented Fayyad on his plans to build up Palestinian government institutions en route to statehood, which Fayyad has set a goal of achieving in two years. He asked Fayyad if “final stage” political negotiations should also now be underway.
Fayyad answered that there was a risk for “this to be seen as an effort to make the occupation work better, and not to end it, and thereby doing away with any political viability that our political leadership still has.”
“What we are counting on is a meaningful political process that is capable of ending the occupation, because building the institutions of the state, by itself, is not going to end the occupation. It is a necessary condition, but it is not sufficient ... . Both have to work together,” Fayyad said.
Earlier in the interview, Fayyad said that Palestinian elections set for January should definitely be held as scheduled.
“That is an absolute right for the people,” he said, adding that, “it is no secret that Hamas does not want elections.”
“Because they think they will lose?” asked Friedman.
“I don’t know of what other reason they may have,” Fayyad said.
“That’s usually a pretty good reason not to have elections,” Friedman said.
The event was Fayyad’s second public discussion of the day. Earlier he sat on a panel in Paepcke Auditorium that included U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
During that discussion, Sen. Feinstein said, “Hamas is a big problem. And I don’t pretend to know how the Palestinian Authority should deal with it.
“But I can tell you the reflection in the rest of the world is, that here still is a militaristic/terrorist organization that still believes Israel should be driven into the sea, that does not admit Israel’s right to exist. And really, when faced with the opportunity to make the change, has refused to do so. So that’s a big problem out there,” Feinstein said.
Fayyad said the answer is to get Palestinians to support “that which is done to affect a meaningful change for the better in people’s lives. I think we stand a much better chance of winning that debate than going about it in a war of words, which has typified much of the argument over the divide.”
For Fayyad, who has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Texas at Austin, Saturday was an opportunity to meet with current and former U.S. government officials in Aspen.
On Thursday, he met with current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the State Dept. in Washington and according to the Ma’an News Agency of Palestine, also with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Fayyad was not the only high-ranking official from the Middle East in Aspen speaking on the Fourth of July.
Syrian ambassador to the U.S. Imad Moustapha was interviewed by The Atlantic magazine Editor James Bennett, and he had some thoughts to share about democracy.
“Democracy is an ideal state that is never attainable,” Moustapha said, pointing out that the U.S. is more democratic today than it was before the Civil War. “It is a process. It is an evolution.”
When asked about the state of democratic freedoms in Syria, Moustapha said that U.S. policy seemed to be that the Arab people should only elect those candidates and parties supported by the U.S.
He referenced the U.S. response in 2007 when the majority of Palestinians voted for the Hamas party, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization.
“When the Palestinian people went and democratically elected their government, on the very same day the United States of America applied draconian sanctions and embargoes on them to add layers to already existing layers of suffering,” Moustapha said.
And he said the current administration had a similar approach to the recent elections in Lebanon.
“A month ago, the vice president of the United States of America went to Lebanon, explicitly, on the record, he said, ‘I hope the Lebanese people will elect the right government in Lebanon, so that we can continue to give support and aid to the Lebanese,’” Moustapha said. “What he didn’t say is, ‘If you elect the other side, then you will face very dire consequences.’ And we understood this in our region.”
In regard to U.S. policy in Syria, the Syrian ambassador said, “You need to leave us to evolve into a more democratic state from within. Don’t try to impose anything on us from without.”