Akiva Eldar
February 13, 2010 - 1:00am

There are tens of millions of people in the world who glory in the title "public servant," but Dr. Salam Fayyad is apparently the only one who wakes up in the morning and goes to work to build a state for his people. Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, is not calling for peace talks, for violent resistance to the occupation or even for civil disobedience. That's the department of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. The most violent protest in which Fayyad participated was a ceremonial bonfire of goods produced in Jewish West Bank settlements. His weapons are responsibility, efficiency, transparency - and above all, patience. Lots of patience.

The power centers in Israel have no idea how to deal with an economist who looks like a bank branch manager and has never held a pistol in his life. In the mid-1990s, when Fayyad was appointed International Monetary Fund representative in the territories, no one imagined he would one day become a key political figure in the West Bank.

Last Tuesday we accompanied the Palestinian prime minister during his workday as a state-builder. Early in the morning his black Mercedes left the well-guarded villa in the Beit Hanina neighborhood on Jerusalem's northern outskirts. There Fayyad lives with his wife and his younger son, a student at a high school in the city. His eldest son is a student at the University of Texas, and his daughter is a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Boston.

By 8:30 A.M., Fayyad has already presented a description of his "start-up" state to a German parliamentary delegation. In a week, he will launch the 1,000th project - this one in Qalqilyah - in the two-year state-building plan he revealed last August. On the assumption that salvation isn't going to come from the peace process, he drafted a detailed work plan for building infrastructure and institutions - the elements of a state.

In the past two years, more than $150 million has been invested in building hundreds of schools, clinics, libraries, and new buildings for government ministries and municipalities; and in improving the electricity, water and sewer infrastructure as well as roads. The Gulf states, the United States and Europe have all contributed to the effort.

Fayyad is promising that this year, more than half the PA budget ($1.8 billion out of $3 billion) will come from tax revenues, especially indirect taxes. He hopes the Palestinians will no longer be dependent on the kindness of foreign countries and will be able to fill their own needs.

At 9:30, Fayyad warmly greeted Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos, an old acquaintance. A bit before 11, the prime minister loosened his tie and set out from his office in Ramallah back toward Jerusalem. Once, sometimes twice, a week, Fayyad goes out to mingle. This time he went to the Dahiyat al-Barid neighborhood in A-Ram, on the border of Jerusalem. The separation barrier has torn it in two, destroyed the income of hundreds of families and separated many Palestinian men from their East Jerusalem wives and children, who have blue Israeli identity cards.

"Despite everything," Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine, Fayyad declared. He promised to come, inshallah, to the Old City as well, and he promised that no separation fence would divide Jerusalem's Palestinians.

The retinue continued to the new medical center in Dahiyat al-Barid, funded by the government of Oman. Fayyad unveiled a plaque, examined the modern equipment and asked how the doctors and nurses were doing. He clearly has learned to enjoy the contact with what our politicians call "the street."

But his "street" isn't party branch offices. Fayyad's Third Way party has no branches, and it hardly has any voters. Fayyad is not a member of Fatah, the ruling party in the West Bank. In 2001, under pressure from the Bush administration, Yasser Arafat appointed Fayyad finance minister. Within a few months Fayyad had sent home 40,000 superfluous PA bureaucrats and shut down dozens of Hamas charitable institutions that served as fronts for the organization's political and military activity.

At the beginning of 2006, before the elections to the Legislative Council (the Palestinian parliament), Fayyad, Hanan Ashrawi and Yasser Abed Rabbo established the Third Way, but they won only two seats.

The appointment of the "bureaucrat" as prime minister in July 2007 peeved many top Fatah officials. However, for Abbas, Fayyad is an existential asset. As long as the prime minister is scooting around the West Bank, the president can scoot around the world as much as he likes.

About a year ago, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even informed the international Quartet members that if the Palestinians were to decide to go without Fayyad, they would also have to manage without American money - a $500,000 annual donation.

Jerusalem too has realized that Fayyad is a rare species. With negotiations stuck and terror attacks largely halted, Israeli diplomats are having trouble responding to the "price tag" he is wreaking for the occupation's damage. This includes anti-Israeli resolutions in international forums such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Health Organization. The recent reports of alleged corruption among top PA officials is causing Fayyad a certain amount of embarrassment, but the affairs do not involve him or his close associates.

Nonetheless, a quarterly survey conducted in December by Dr. Khalil Shikaki's Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that only 13 percent of the residents of the Palestinian territories wanted Fayyad as their vice president - more said they preferred the imprisoned Marwan Barghouti or the prime minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh. However, about 40 percent of the respondents graded the Fayyad government's performance as "good" or "very good," as opposed to 25 percent who called it "poor" or "very poor."

Fayyad's biography has nothing indicative of qualifications for leading a national liberation organization. Fayyad, 58, was born in a small village, Dir Rasun, in the Tul Karm district. His family neither fled nor was it expelled from its home in 1948, and he himself has not spent even a single day in an Israeli prison. When his peers were planning terror attacks in Israel, he was studying economics at the University of Texas at Austin. In the 1980s, as Yasser Arafat was fleeing to Tunis, Fayyad completed his doctorate and was appointed dean of the economics faculty at Yarmouk University in Jordan.

In 1993, when Abbas signed the Oslo agreement at the White House alongside Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, and was preparing to return to the territories, Fayyad was ensconced in the offices of the World Bank in Washington.

"When the peace process began, I felt uncomfortable," said Fayyad in a conversation. "I was not living in peace with myself. As I read the newspaper with my coffee in my yard, I felt a need to be a part of the story. This is something much greater than comfort and a career."

They uproot, we plant

As the premier's workday continued, he made a stop at a new park at the edge of A-Ram. It was the Tree Festival - the Palestinian Arbor Day. Fayyad declared that the Jewish settlers are uprooting trees, while the Palestinians are planting saplings.

"Our roots," he added, "are deeper than the separation wall."

The Palestinian anthem played on the loudspeakers, and the police saluted. "We are so close that I am sure the settlers can hear our anthem," Fayyad said.

Even Fayyad, considered the ultimate moderate, sees East Jerusalem as an integral part of Palestine, and its Jewish neighborhoods as settlements.

The retinue proceeded to a meeting with representatives of nongovernmental organizations, also in A-Ram, in an auditorium packed with hundreds of people.

Fayyad later told us that he had encountered initial skepticism regarding his plan to build a state while still under occupation, but added that he has been sensing positive reactions: No one, after all, is forcing Palestinians to come en masse to his public meetings.

A woman from an environmental organization asked him to help promote awareness of the issue, as two elegantly dressed men sitting near her exhaled cigarette smoke into the crowd. Another woman complained about the lack of shelters for battered women, and a man in the front row protested the lack of handicapped access at government offices. Judging by the type of problems being raised, Fayyad's state is indeed at hand - these are the problems of a state.

Fayyad's critics say that Palestinian policemen are filling the role previously played by the lsrael Defense Forces - fighting violent resistance to the occupation. The president of Al-Quds University, Prof. Sari Nusseibeh, has even suggested that because of Fayyad's policies, the PA should shut its offices and demand Israel annex the territories and give civil rights to the Palestinians. Israel's Oz immigration police unit operates in Ramallah with immunity, a few streets away from Fayyad's bureau, displaying the weakness of his dignified title.

But Fayyad doesn't miss an opportunity to say that security is in the Palestinians' interest, and that the PA isn't doing anyone else a favor when it imposes law and order. He promises the crowd that soon, Palestinian security forces will control all the West Bank towns. Nevertheless, Fayyad knows there is a glass ceiling separating him from 60 percent of the West Bank - Area C, which is under full Israeli control, and includes East Jerusalem, the border area and the Jordan Valley.

In the back seat of the Mercedes, as he rushed to a meeting with Quartet envoy Tony Blair, Fayyad said he knows a state can't be built on its economy alone, nor on only law and order. But in less than two years, when he completes his project, the occupation will become an anomaly in the eyes of the world, he said.

In the evening, shortly before he presented his vision at the Herzliya Conference, Fayyad dined alongside President Shimon Peres at the table of Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, an acquaintance from his World Bank days. Peres, a close associate of Israel's first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, called Fayyad the Palestinian Ben-Gurion: He too is building a state while under foreign occupation - and despite foreign occupation.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017