Palestinian PM Tackles Corruption, Hamas Salaam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, is lobbying Congress and the Bush administration for financial and political support. He discusses the stalled peace talks with Israel, anti-corruption efforts and the thorny issue of Hamas in Gaza.
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Palestinian PM Tackles Corruption, Hamas

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Palestinian PM Tackles Corruption, Hamas

Palestinian PM Tackles Corruption, Hamas

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

In the Middle East, where politics is often about ideologically distinct movements - possibly with their own militias - and where patronage often counts more than good government, Dr. Salaam Fayyad is an exception. He's a political independent and a professional technocrat.

Salaam Fayyad is the Palestinian prime minister. He actually runs the government of President Mahmoud Abbas on the West Bank. In Gaza, the Islamist group Hamas took over by force. Dr. Fayyad is a University of Texas-trained economist who worked for several years at the World Bank. He's in Washington trying to get the U.S. to increase aid to the Palestinian Authority. And he sat down this morning to talk with our colleague Robert Siegel.

ROBERT SIEGEL: Prime Minister Fayyad, welcome.

Dr. SALAAM FAYYAD (Prime Minister, Palestinian National Authority) Pleased to be with you.

SIEGEL: I want to ask you about something that the Israeli Vice Prime Minister Haim Ramon said yesterday. He said that the aim of the U.S.-backed peace talks between Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas is an agreement in principle on Palestinian statehood by the end of this year, not an actual detailed peace accord that's implemented this year. Is that sufficient and do you agree that's the aim of that process?

D: I don't agree that that's the aim of the process. The stated aim of the process when it was launched at Annapolis was to actually reach a detailed peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis. That remains the goal of Palestine. And I have not heard anything on this visit from administration officials including the president himself that contradicts that.

SIEGEL: When Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections, one of their strongest planks was being against the corruption of the old Fatah government. You stand for good governance in the Palestinian Authority. You've brought greater transparency to its finances. But why hasn't your office assisted in the prosecution of people who are corrupt in the past, or is it a political reality that there shall have to be a de facto amnesty for whatever happened in the previous government?

D: You know, it really is not a de facto reality or something that is accepted as a given. It's not. It's just a question of priorities. I mean, as a first order of business, doctors try to stop the bleeding before they operate. That essentially is the approach, as a matter of...

SIEGEL: You say stopping the graft was...

D: Exactly, stopping the...

SIEGEL: ...more important than going to find previous, past...

D: Ensuring that you immunize the system and shield it from such occurrences going forward. That's really the most important thing. That was the major preoccupation of ours, you know, in the first drive for reform over the period of 2002-2005. As you know, the system came undone in 2006 after Hamas took over for a variety of reasons. We have just finished repairing the system and putting it back together. It's no longer fragmented.

I mentioned yesterday here publicly that we'll truly expect to be able to log on to Ministry of Finance's website early next month, and there you will see that we will be putting out detailed monthly reports of our revenues and expenditures, so that everybody can see for themselves, you know, where money is coming from, how it's spent. The important thing about this is not willingness to be open, but ability to be open. We have really put the system back on track. That's really the most important thing. I'm not really setting aside the question you asked about going after people.

SIEGEL: But if somebody did loot the Palestinian Authority of millions in the 1990s, should they really fear that they'll be brought to justice sometime soon?

D: They should. They should. There is no statute of limitations on corruption, and people who committed crimes like this should at all times feel that they are going to be pursued, because they will be.

SIEGEL: When you say that the Palestinian Authority should take over the Gaza border crossing...

D: Yes.

SIEGEL: ...which you've made the case. Well, why shouldn't the Israelis say in response to that claim, look, the Palestinian Authority was driven out of the Gaza by Hamas. If they were to return, they would have to work only at the tolerance of Hamas, and there's no sign of the P.A. being capable of either running the checkpoints or cracking down on, say, rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.

D: But why would Israel want to do the thinking on behalf of Hamas or for Hamas? Let Hamas think for itself.

SIEGEL: You think you could negotiate a modus vivendi with Hamas in Gaza?

D: We are - in so far as the crossings are concerned, as a matter of fact, where our position on this is very clear. And I think it's practical. What we're really calling for here is restoration of the status quo when the P.A. actually managed the crossings of the Palestinian side of the border.

Now, I see no reason - I see no reason why we should not be able to do what, that which we were doing before the violent takeover. All that is required of Hamas is to step aside and allow this to happen. I don't see a need for there to be negotiation on this with Hamas or anything like that.

SIEGEL: No actual agreement reached with Hamas, just a de facto pullback of armed men from the crossings, it wouldn't have to be some...

D: I don't think it really is difficult to figure out, you know, by Hamas or anyyone else for that matter, what really is required for passages to operate. What's required is for there not to be interference by Hamas in the operational passages. If there is violence of any kind, clearly, passages cannot be opened. Or if they're opened, they're going to close. I mean, how difficult is it for anyone to understand that? Why should there be negotiations or something like that?

As I said, all that is required is for them to step aside and get out of the way and allow this to happen.

SIEGEL: And do you see any indication that they might do that anytime soon?

D: Based on the indications I get so far, it doesn't look that way, but this is no reason whatsoever to stop trying, and to really push this forward is the only way to make this happen.

SIEGEL: Dr. Fayyad, thank you very much for being with us.

D: My pleasure. Thank you.

SIEGEL: Dr. Salaam Fayyad, prime minister of the Palestinian National Authority.

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