Friday, June 15, 2007

Salam Fayad: Everyone's favorite Palestinian

A Repost Recommended by Fatima
Original Post: March 27, 2007

""The old-new Palestinian finance minister, Salam Fayyad, took advantage of last weekend, before the new Palestinian unity government was sworn in, to say "farewell" to his Israeli colleagues. In effect, already at the end of February, when Fayyad held talks with senior Israeli officials at the Finance and Foreign Ministries, he was aware that by joining a government which includes Hamas, he - the Palestinian politician most esteemed in the West - would be added to the growing list of Palestinians Israel is boycotting. "I very much enjoyed working with you," Fayyad told one senior Israeli official during that weekend. "It is a shame that we will not be able to continue talking. I can only hope that this will change in the future."

Fayyad was not the only one who regretted the end of contacts. Many Israelis, both senior and less so, were sorry to see him leave. Everyone who met him in the past few years was enchanted by him. In Jerusalem, Washington, Paris, London and many other capitals, Fayyad became the ultimate Palestinian "icon," the ideal partner. Tzipi Livni, Ephraim Sneh and other Israeli politicians enjoyed sitting and talking with him in the captivating garden of the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem, or on the terrace of the King David Hotel, in the city's west. Fayyad is the only Palestinian in whose hands they were prepared to place hundreds of millions of dollars in the belief that these monies would indeed be used to pay salaries.

Fayyad's close relationship with the Israeli establishment can be gauged from the following story. About two years ago, the daughter of Dov Weisglass, who was then the head of the Prime Minister's Bureau, got married. Fayyad was also invited and until today he enjoys a warm relationship with Weisglass. When the seating arrangement was set, Fayyad was placed next to then-prime minister Ariel Sharon. The two had a long conversation between the end of the "chuppah" and the start of the refreshments.

But the best evidence of his status in Israel was the invitation he received to deliver an address at the Herzliya Conference last January. Fayyad was thus granted entry to the meeting place of Israel's economic and political elite via the front door. "I know that it was at this conference that they announced the disengagement plan, a move which perhaps had the greatest influence on the Palestinians' lives in the past few years," he said in his opening remarks. "I was invited to speak about economics but I actually prefer to speak to you about politics." During the next half hour, Fayyad outlined his political philosophy. The audience, which was composed of senior figures in the economy, listened to him attentively......

He was on his way to a brilliant business career when the person considered to be his greatest patron intervened - then national security adviser and today U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. When the Israel Defense Forces' Operation Defensive Shield was over, pressure mounted on Yasser Arafat to implement reforms. As a result, the new job of PA finance minister was set up.....

Fayyad also left Likud MK Silvan Shalom with a relatively positive impression. "We found him easy to deal with and Ariel Sharon believed that if money is being transferred to the Palestinians then at least it should go directly to him," he says.....

Israeli diplomats say that since it became clear that Fayyad will return to the finance portfolio, their European counterparts have been beside themselves. "They are all just waiting for the moment when they can meet him," one senior foreign ministry official said. "All we hear from them is 'Fayyad, Fayyad, Fayyad.'" Israel's former ambassador to Washington, Danny Ayalon, who spent quite a bit of time with Fayyad, tries to explain the phenomenon: "He is the Palestinian figure with the most prestige in the West; they consider him to be someone who can speak their language. The unlimited credit he has earned from the Americans is what gives him his power."

Why do Israelis feel so comfortable with him? Senior political officials, Knesset members and cabinet ministers who have met him, explain that Fayyad simply does not resemble any other Palestinian political figure. "He is the classic example of a Palestinian who has spent a great deal of time in the West and has acquired Western behavior and values," a senior Israeli official says. "He is a very straight person. His directness is surprising. There are no games or pretenses with him. Quite a few Palestinians immediately begin with a speech about the occupation just so they can feel good about themselves. With him, it's not like that. Obviously he is not satisfied with the occupation but one doesn't hear the standard slogans from him. You sit down and talk with him to the point."....."

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