The Balfour Project presents extracts from a lecture given online by Professor Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority (2007-2013), on 5 December 2023

Professor Fayyad was in conversation with Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor, director of the Middle East Study Centre (MESC) at Hull University; Sir Vincent Fean, Balfour Project Trustee and former Consul-General in East Jerusalem; and Sir Tom Phillips, MESC Advisory Board member and former British Ambassador to Israel and Saudi Arabia. 

The full video of the lecture is available here.

Prof. Fayyad began by saying that Hamas’s position among the Palestinian people in all the occupied Palestinian territories grew in popularity after the mid-1990s as people realised that the Oslo agreements were not going to deliver them freedom and statehood. There were failures of Palestinian governance and Israel continually undermined the Palestinian Authority (PA). “The competing ideology and philosophy on the Palestinian political scene that was Hamas…gained in popularity and standing among the Palestinian people wherever they were…”

“If you look at Hamas’ trajectory over the period since 2005 onward, going through the first round of violence in 2006, escalation and all, on the whole it has risen significantly. And it has, by and large, held steady, not only in Gaza but in the West Bank, maybe even more so in the West Bank than Gaza, judging by one of the very few forms of elections that still take place in the Palestinian political arena. People look at university student council elections as a barometer of where sentiments are politically. Going back to the last national elections in the Palestinian territory in 2006, they were in the majority. So, they were a force to be reckoned with. The theory that, on the strength of war and bombardment they can be decapitated politically, I don’t know if this is really a worthwhile bet to continue to invest in. I don’t think it’s the way it’s going to work out. And I think, if anything, Hamas will emerge from this war again… the swings that people normally go through psychologically. At the end of the day, I don’t think this is the way to go. Hamas is a political force to be reckoned with, an ideology to be reckoned with. And you do not really deal, or handle, or attempt to start to gain ground on movements like this with a religious orientation, strong ideology, strong alignment with where people are sentimentally speaking, in terms of the conflict with Islam and the rest of it; you don’t really confront a movement like this by trying to eliminate it physically – that’s just an exercise in futility.”

Prof. Fayyad went on to list the many unsuccessful attempts that the PA, Hamas and other factions, such as Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine had made to agree a political platform, but nothing productive had come of them. Factionalism, he said, had dominated the Palestinian body politic for many decades before Hamas.

Prof. Cohen-Almagor asked if Prof. Fayyad foresaw [Palestinian] elections soon. Not in the midst of “this catastrophe [the war in Gaza], he said; but, even beyond that “if we are going to have elections in an open and inclusive manner as we should – and, by the way, as we did, back in 2006 – a lot has to happen to open up the Palestinian political space for participation by wide segments of the Palestinian public that have been excluded effectively, either because of lack of interest, apathy, or because of state intimidation.

“How serious can one be in talking about elections when you have people summoned for interrogation for posting things on Facebook? There’s something fundamentally wrong with this kind of thinking. Would you anticipate if you were to conduct elections against the backdrop of the very tense relationship between the state government institutions and civil society, the public at large, a large segment of the public, especially the youth, it is clear to me that actually, even if one were to abstract from the impossibility of conducting elections against the backdrop of the calamity that is upon us right now, we need a period of time during which there are new principles that are put in place and respected concerning respecting the status of citizens, to repair a badly damaged relationship between the government and citizens. That’s absolutely essential.”

“This is true both in Gaza and the West Bank. There are no heroes here. So, it is very important to do that, and then have elections. It happens to be the case that transitional periods of the kind that I’m talking about would also be important enough to begin the arduous task of reuniting Palestinian institutions, after 16 years now of separation. This is not to distract from the disaster, that is the war that continues to rage on as we speak, but even before that, putting together the institutions of the PA, such that each activity was represented by one institution, both for Gaza and the West Bank. All of a sudden, we had two agencies for each governmental function. Now, anyone who really knows anything about managing government affairs will tell you, it’s an extremely difficult task to put these things back together, involving decisions on personnel, and in a highly charged political environment, how difficult it is to do these things while at the same time handling all the challenges that come with trying to do this under the reality of a highly oppressive and capricious occupational regime. That was true even before the war and destruction. Now, look at how much more difficult that’s become.”

“There is a need for a lot of healing, also the burying of the dead to begin with, an immense task of reconstruction, that will take a very, very long period of time, maybe decades. But first things first, if there’s a will to address it, this hell itself, let’s just stop where we are. Let’s stop digging. What is really required is for this war to come to an end now. Now, not tomorrow, not next week, not until the government of Mr. Netanyahu decides. It feels that they’re really exacting revenge, as if they’re just about the resurrection of whatever it is that remained of their veneer of invincibility that they tried to project throughout the decades. Is it really worth tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians to perish before that objective is achieved? Israel will not achieve its military objectives this time around, they set the bar way too high: the aim of decapitating, eliminating, eradicating Hamas, all of them. Anyone would tell you that this is an exercise in futility, because we’re dealing with a political movement with an ideology that cannot be destroyed. And it’s time for Israel to stop. It’s time for Israel to be told to stop because, if it is not told to stop, it is not going to..”

Prof. Fayyad cautioned everyone against thinking how to manage Gaza after the war ended; the idea of trying to create a “Hamas-less Gaza”.

Let me give you my first best option, given the history of this conflict, and given the length to which Israeli governments, particularly the current one, have gone, to really, actually, deny the reality, the reality of who they are and what they are about, and occupation. And to really stop referring to or not accepting reference to the West Bank and Gaza as occupied territory, if you will, to take that into account. And if somebody is really interested in bringing in the world, let’s turn this into an international custodianship, not only for Gaza, but also the West Bank including Jerusalem. I didn’t say East Jerusalem, I know exactly what I said. That’s what should happen. If you really want to bring in the world, and if you really want to go back to the basics, which I think by virtue of its actions, and recalcitrance, over successive governments, Israel has really managed to strategically lose massively relative to where it wanted to be, by really taking this conflict back to its inception, not to ‘67, but to ‘48.

Look at young people around the world and look at what they’re saying right now. So there has to really be a serious moment of reckoning. For now, the sentiments are high. But I think cooler heads must prevail, and people will need to take a look at it. So back to the question. That’s my preference. If you want to talk about internationalisation, let’s turn this into international custodianship for the occupied Palestinian territory in 1967. International status, international law, have those also included in the mix, and just see where that takes us. If that is not palatable, the second best would be to have the Palestinian Authority assume control. We need to bring this conflict to an end.

“The two-state solution is the best way forward. The way to really get out of this mess is to deal with the root causes of the problem at source. A solution based on the model of two states, meaning the emergence of an independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied in 1967. It makes sense that something was created in the context of the previous failed peace process – but nevertheless it is a process – namely the Palestinian Authority. For it to really be physically there, and to actually assume that responsibility, there are a number of questions that are raised. First, is this an entity that can handle the chores of governing and rebuilding and healing a body and all of that in the immediate aftermath of war? The alternative is weaker, because if you create a new entity out of nothing, just a few names, people who live in Gaza, apart from the problems that I refer to which presume the total destruction of Hamas or neutralisation of Hamas, with all that really implies for tens of thousands or more people: how is that Palestinian Authority weaker than a new body that you put together from scratch? It’s not.

“I argue that it’s not actually limitations on the PA, current limitations, its current capacity in the technical sense, that is the constraint here; rather, it is its political weakness, its lack of viability as a political entity. And it’s not only in Gaza or relative to Gaza. But I would say it was weak for a variety of reasons. Now, if you are this feeble, politically, you cannot, as a matter of logic, assume the tall order of managing in the aftermath of such a devastating war (and I hope it comes to an end very soon), coming to Gaza to govern and manage on the top of an Israeli tank. You can do so only if you are prepared to reconstitute yourself, reconfigure yourself politically, to become a matter of national consensus, because then the decision to go together is a national decision. Then nobody is imposing the PA on the people of Gaza. Gaza is, was, and will always be an integral part of the Palestinian national project. And to do that, the PA must go there audaciously, backed by national consensus. Then the PA can immediately begin to assume that responsibility acting through a government that’s consented to by everybody, including Hamas, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, including all political forces that matter – that actually register on the scale of politics in Palestine.”

Prof. Fayyad said this war was never Israel against Hamas: “This is Israel [acting] against all of us personally.” He was asking the whole world to bring the conflict to an end and say “Enough already. Enough of this kind of war of vengefulness.”


Answering a question about the possibility still of a two-state solution, from Sir Tom Phillips, Prof. Fayyad said: “So dealing with what did not work, if we want to preserve, in the language that is used now by President Biden, preserve a pathway to a Palestinian state as he describes it, it seems to me eminently logical to begin by dealing with the biggest mistake or structural defect in the existing framework, that framework that is Oslo that was signed in September 1993. It actually did not have an adequately defined outcome. That process was to culminate in agreement on what was called permanent status issues, but without any parameters.  There were no parameters for the negotiations. There were parameters subsequently, set first by [President Bill] Clinton, if you recall, but the process was to, somehow, miraculously culminate not in the emergence of the sovereign state of Palestine on the territories occupied in 1967, but by agreements with Israel that were difficult to agree to in 1993. If you really want to keep that doctrine alive, first things first, let’s agree is this going to lead to a Palestinian state at the end of negotiations? Let’s come to a point, but negotiation or not, let’s be clear on the outcome. That’s not to be fudged.

“Let’s not talk about a process that will end up being about nothing but a process essentially, getting us [back] to where we are right now. So, let’s first define the outcome. If in fact, it is a Palestinian state, not fried chicken, as Netanyahu is fond of politically saying…. If you only want to call it fried chicken that’s fine with me. Yeah, that’s what it was. And that’s what it continues to be. So for us Palestinians, to be expected to engage in the process, that Israelis can say, you know, what emerges from it, you can call it fried chicken if you like. But that’s not going to cut it – for all the talk about restoration, preservation, keeping alive the possibility of this solution. The outcome has to be stated at the outset. It has to be acceptance of the idea of the sovereign Palestinian state on the territory occupied in 1967.

Then you can ask me the question immediately: if the outcome is so predetermined, what do you need negotiations for? No, you do need negotiations – but those negotiations should, in my humble opinion, never have been about principles. Negotiations should be about arrangements and assurances. That’s what they are. The principle that we Palestinians are a people, and therefore entitled to national rights as all other nations and peoples around the world, is something that is not open to discussion at all, at all, at all. That has to be accepted in the discourse. We seek to find an expression of self-determination in the form of a real state on the territories occupied in 1967. But let us not fall into the trap that we did before. Let us not engage in a transactional peace process. Let us engage in a principled peace process, one that begins by reciprocating that gold standard in the world: recognition that the PLO had extended to the Government of Israel in 1993. Let’s have our right to a sovereign state on the territories occupied in 1967 formally recognised by the state of Israel, and then we engage in negotiations tomorrow.”

Prof Fayyad was asked about the Balfour Project seeking British recognition of a Palestinian state in advance of any serious negotiations of the Israel-Palestine issue, so that the two sides engage on an equal basis, state to state. Referring to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, in which the British Foreign Secretary’s letter to the Zionists referred to the Palestinian Arabs as “the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”, he went on:

“Yes, that is a laudable objective. But moving from the language of the original Declaration of 2 November 1917 to the ideal that you’re talking about, has to go through the station of moving from calling us not by our name, by who we are not. We had no hand in drafting that Declaration with “non-Jewish communities”. That’s who we are, in that text. And that’s basically the backdrop against which there are many in Israel who believe that there’s no other, they don’t exist. A sitting member of the current Israeli cabinet gives us the choice of dying, emigrating – leaving the country – or accepting to live like slaves in our own backyard. Where are we at with this in the 21st century? So yes, [we need] to move from that beginning – of visitors not counting us as anything – to where we are: a people with rights, meant that I think there’s one important step, especially given the failures of the past.

“There was a lot of energy and, I think, invested goodwill that sprang out of the Rabin/Arafat handshake. All that was going to be enough to lift the boat? It didn’t. So, we need serious lifting. We need really more principles enshrined; we need recognition of our rights. And then we negotiate as equals. In the end, if truth is going to prevail, it is never going to be based on a relationship between slave and master. That really is basically the “living in peace”, as we are projected to have to do.  Israeli rhetoric is that of the slave-master, it’s [us] accepting to be a lesser form of life. And we’re not superior, we’re not superior to anyone. But we’re not inferior to another either.”


Sir Vincent Fean asked Prof. Fayyad what he thought of the West’s attitudes to the conflict and the role they might play in enabling Palestinian self-determination. Prof. Fayyad went through the history since the Oslo Accords of 1993, listing the lack of serious American involvement since the [President Barak] Obama Administration, and the lack of support for international action on illegal settlements and annexation, including the disastrous [President Donald] Trump “real estate” policies. Western policy, he said, seemed to be “the status quo” in perpetuity.


“There was a degree of US aspiration in 2021. We saw the interest rise and then fall in 2021. After the Gaza war escalation [of that year], the Biden administration engaged with the Palestinian Authority and made statements about…the two-state solution and all of that. But then… things went back to a status quo, that somehow not only the United States, Europe and the regional countries assumed was going to really be the status quo in perpetuity. That was really a huge mistake. Europe could have done more during this period, particularly on those issues of principle.  But that didn’t happen. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”…. Everybody started to have a vested interest in the status quo, beginning with Israel. We saw strategic value in the continuous separation of Gaza from the West Bank; some strategic value in continuing to deal with Hamas in ways that actually ended up in a situation that added to the lack of legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority, whatever remains of that today.

But all of these issues are important. And the issue was constantly, let’s find money for the Palestinians, even at the height of [their] recognition that things were not going well. Their emissaries were running to Arab countries. I’m not going to really mention names here. You know, this is going on in recent months, running to oil producing countries in the region saying give money to the prisoners. It’s as if it’s really about money. Well, money is an issue, I was Finance Minister and I know how important money is. But if you really begin telling other countries that’s all it is about, that’s a mistake.

Now some remarks on the current situation because that’s important. Everybody knows from the early footage and images of this war the picture of the President himself, travelling to Israel, and the famous hug that he gave to Benjamin Netanyahu…. I was hoping that the US President would, in addition to doing what he did visibly, going to really begin to signal or say quietly, things that are consistent with the need to end this war; coming against the backdrop of public statements. Whether it was fully supportive of Israel’s position, recognising [it] unconditionally, and without any scrutiny…the right to self-defence, as reported repeatedly…. But we have to really be fair. I watch what is said and listen. Here it’s important to look for an opening, and one would be less than fair to say that there has been no change, or the needle has not moved. A visible change has taken place: in France, for example. That was probably the most obvious change in public posture, from the statements made early on by [French President Emmanuel] Macron to what he’s stating right now.

The US here is especially important if you really look at how the rhetoric totally started to change, not to suggest that there was no internal or private conversation with Israelis. But I’m talking about public messaging. I draw attention to what the Secretary of Defence said about this turning into a strategic defeat for Israel: prolongation of the war. That’s an important statement to make. What was encouraging were the statements made by Vice President Kamala Harris, first in a TV interview that she gave to 60 Minutes about four weeks ago. Where I read words, where I read the Balfour Declaration carefully, I think it’s fair to describe what she said in that interview was the most progressive statement on Palestinian rights ever made by a serving US official. It was important. I remember the words, I remember that she said Palestine has to have a right to security, safety, dignity and self-determination. To me, out of this number of words ‘security and self-determination’ are the words that told me that that’s an acknowledgement of our rights. That’s very important. If you listen to what she said recently in Dubai, she authoritatively outlined four principles of US policy: the US being against forced dislocation, Gaza not to be shrunk in size, about the United States not being [in favour of the occupation…

There is something there. You have the US Secretary of Defence – he’s not acting off his own bat when he says this [war] risks turning into strategic defeat – these are important words. And then some of what Secretary Blinken has said, combined with what President Biden and Bernie Sanders have said. So there is, to be fair, in recent statements made by senior US officials, some encouragement that we are on a path where things can begin to take a turn for the better.

But I want to really say this very advisedly and cautiously. This is really a direct call through this distinguished forum to the US Administration. The time has come. The time has come. We will witness abject moral failure if it does not put its foot down today and say ‘enough already’, publicly, Because that, I think, can begin to move the needle in a serious way in Israel itself.”


Sir Vincent asked about mutual security, its effectiveness as opposed to imposed security:


Prof. Fayyad: “I think that’s essential. Unless security is underpinned by a political accommodation, it’s not going to be sustainable. That is clear. What you need as a basic minimum is a period during which there is an iron-clad commitment to, basically, nonviolence. You need that, as a matter of fact. So the kind of transition that I have in mind has that as a key component: that you need to have a commitment to nonviolence. That is something that even before the war Hamas was willing to consider as a matter of fact, in its own conduct of its bilateral relationship with Israel through mediators. I don’t know if they will be directly in touch. But in any event, it was clear that part of it was the internal Hamas leadership and something that they would consider acceptable. It is a policy that is an obvious requirement and expectation we need. Now to get to the point where you have security on a sustained basis and stability, you’d have to underpin it politically, and that requires agreement. That agreement cannot happen overnight. But it surely beats the status quo. We need to begin a process by which you’re telling us where we’re going. People don’t get on a train without knowing where it is going. We really need to begin that conversation by signaling the destination, and there has to be seriousness.”

“Europe is hugely important. And Europe itself was never really content with being the financier of the occupation. Please remember, we want Europe to be able to be a player, not just a payer. You don’t need to ask permission – just go play. It’s your field. It’s your backyard. You don’t need permission from anyone to do that.”

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