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Palestinian PM: ‘Open and Democratic’ Palestine Is Crucial

Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the nascent state of Palestine, gave an interesting speech at the National Press Club this afternoon. Fayyad took repeated shots at his Islamist rivals in Hamas by describing the kind of Palestine he desires: "one that must be open and democratic, faithful to the rule of law, respect for human rights, cultural sensitivity and religious tolerance." Much more subtly, he used a trope of the Bush administration against it in a sotto voce challenge.

First, Hamas. I had the chance to submit a question to Fayyad. Can Hamas be a partner in a democratic, tolerant Palestine, or does its illiberalism render it a hindrance to his aspirations? Here’s his response.

I think an important part of being in government, and an important part of leadership, is to make it absolutely clear to people as to where we stand on basic, fundamental issues. A lot of focus has gone in the past, traditionally, to the political side of the equation. Before it was a question about the broader issues of the peace question, and not as much attention was given to attributes of statehood, as I talked about in my statement today. The kind of state we aspire to have, the kind of society we would like to see the [inaudible] go up, that vision is very important to us.

I think it’s important to speak forcefully, openly and with conviction on these issues, outlining a point of view that is in sharp contrast to the point of view, in many important respects, put forward by Hamas. There’s nothing wrong with political differences or differences of view. Words, I think, can be blotted out, if only we can find agreement on the most fundamental issues that need to be agreed. And that is a security document that works to the development of the Palestinian people, and one that is consistent also with the need for us to live up to our commitments in this important period. That’s key. Because these issues have to be debated, we have to speak our mind about where we stand on these issues.

He went on to call Hamas’s takeover of Gaza a "catastrophe… The most significant blow to our right to attain freedom and fairness for our people since the occupation of ‘67. It was a major, major, major setback."

Now for the subtle part. By count, Fayyad used the word "freedom" nine times in his speech and during the brief Q-and-A that followed. That seemed a lot like a subtle challenge to President Bush’s so-called "Freedom Agenda," or at least a test. How committed is Bush, in his final year in office, to taking steps that secure the liberation of a democratic Palestine? Fayyad rushed off after barely an hour to meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. That question, in all likelihood, lurked as the subtext for their entire conversation.

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