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By Micah Halpern

Tuesday July 10, 2007


Salam Fayad, he's the man. If he can't do it no one can.

It sounds like a summer camp time cheer, but really, it is a rally for Palestinians and for the Palestinian Authority. In the course of the past two weeks Palestinian leadership has taken positive and very significant steps in the direction of law, order, stability, accountability and eventual statehood.

Most importantly, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has appointed Salam Fayad to the position of interim prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. The name Salam Fayad is not yet recognized by Western masses, but it is not only recognized but also respected in international, diplomatic circles. For Palestinians, this man is a hero - not for his military prowess but for his keen economic sense, for his conscience, for his ability to change the lives of average Palestinians in a positive way. Fayad is one of the few men of power in Palestinian political life to have bucked the system and been invited back to do it again.

Salam Fayad spent most of his career in the World Bank in Washington, D.C. He is a player with a long history of interaction with the West. He understands the game of diplomacy and is well versed in the dynamics of bureaucracy. Fayad knows how the United States goes about the business of getting things done. He knows how to talk to the West. And he understands how to erect an infrastructure for a real democracy.

Salam Fayad is a man with a vision for the Palestinian people.

Yasser Arafat, the first and greatest of all Palestinian leaders, was notorious for pleading for monetary aid for his beleaguered people, receiving international aid and then hiding it away under mattresses and in secret bank accounts. When really forced to share the money for items like salaries and running his government Arafat would divvy up cash, personally place designated amounts in envelopes and dispatch underlings to distribute the payments.

Fayad served as finance minister under Yasser Arafat. One of his greatest accomplishments was establishing bank accounts for employees of the Palestinian Authority - for people like police and teachers and sewage workers, and for instituting direct deposit payments into those bank accounts. He did it under Arafat's watchful, if not approving, eye. Fayad created a paper trail, he inserted the notion of accountability into the PA finance ministry. Until then, under Arafat, there was no recourse, no such thing as redress of grievances, and certainly, there was no way to collect taxes on payroll.

Salam Fayad is a man of principles.

One of the first things tasks Fayad has undertaken as prime minister is the implementation of a law, dictated by presidential order, outlawing guns and explosives. According to this new law the only people permitted weapons are to be members of the established PA police forces. That means no militias. That means no gangs.

The law is a direct attack against the two populations to most threaten and tear apart the fabric of Palestinian life. The law is directed at Hamas in Gaza and at rival local gangs roaming through and ravaging the West Bank.

Hamas claims they do not know about this new law. And the leaders of the largest gangs in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Jenin say that the new law has nothing to do with them. Critics of the new law claim that it was explicitly formulated in order to destroy Hamas and to placate the United States and other Western countries.

Everyone might be correct, but that is beside the point. What is most important is that for the first time in a very long time a Palestinian leader is attempting to restore law. For the first time in a very long time a Palestinian leader is attempting to create a central authority with a forward direction.

Salam Fayad is a man with backbone.

Still in his first days in his new position Fayad has already met with about 800 Palestinian preachers, including some who outwardly support Hamas. The purpose of these meetings is to tell the clergy, in no uncertain terms, that incitement will no longer be condoned or permitted in the Palestinian Authority.

It is a recognized reality that much of the hatred and the violence that is tearing apart the Palestinians and much of the general Arab world begins in mosques. Fayad knows that, the preachers certainly know that, you and I know that. In his own forceful yet diplomatic words, Fayad said: "We will collect weapons and replace them with pens and books." ... "The phenomenon of militants is very dangerous and we want to stop it in all forms." ... "We will not allow them (mosques) to be turned into places of incitement and intimidation." ... "It is the responsibility of men of religion to present religion as a way of tolerance and not as a cover for bloodshed."

And then, once again breaking with tradition, Salam Fayad met with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to discuss numerous issues - most importantly a quid pro quo, a way to get Israel to ease the road blocks. And on that same day he met with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. And he will have other meetings. Bottom line, Salam Fayad is a bureaucrat and bureaucrats have meetings, and meetings are an essential tool in breaking logjams.

Vision and principles and backbone are not common attributes in Palestinian society. Vision and principles and backbone are extremely rare in liberal Muslim leaders.

Salam Fayad has plans for the Palestinian people, he has thought seriously about the future of the Palestinian Authority. We know what he intends to do, the real question is whether he has the ability to actually follow through and achieve his vision. It will take a long time to transform Palestinian society, it will take a long time to remove the Palestinian people from the nightmare they have been living and realize the dream of the new interim Palestinian prime minister.

If anyone can do it, Salam Fayad can.

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4 June 2017 12:14 PM in Columns

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