TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice got on the phone today with the new Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. And she had some very welcome news for him. Following the events of the past week or so in the Gaza Strip, the White House has decided to restore direct aid to the Palestinian Authority.
The European Union did the same thing a couple of hours earlier. Though whether money will change anything among the Palestinians — or between Israel and the Palestinians — is still up in the air.
Dennis Ross is a longtime Middle East peace negotiator. Mr. Ross, good to have you with us.
Dennis Ross: Nice to be with you, thank you.
Ryssdal: You at all surprised that the funding’s been restored?
Ross: I’m not surprised, I thought it was probably likely. There’s a tendency, obviously, to want to insure that Abu Mazen will succeed. And I think that’s a good instinct, but I think if we just do business the way we have in the past with Abu Mazen, we’re not gonna see Fatah change. And Fatah needs to change. Fatah needs to reform itself. This is a very good time to provide support, but also to make sure that there are a number of conditions.
We can provide some to begin with, but if a lot more’s gonna be provided, we really need to see that there’s not only gonna be transparency, but we’re gonna see the money going to purposes that will benefit all Palestinians — at least will benefit and allow Fatah to show that it’s not the same old Fatah.
Ryssdal: Abu Mazen, of course, another name for the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Do you think he’s going to use some of this money for Palestinians in Gaza?
I think he will want to, because he has . . . first of all, he’s the president, in his eyes, of all Palestinians of the Palestinian Authority, so he will want to. The trick is gonna be how do you do it? Because it’s not gonna be so easy to get money there that Hamas won’t itself be able to get its hands on. Or Hamas may well, in fact, respond in some way to try to prevent moneys from going to Fatah groups within Gaza, and not going to them.
Ryssdal: So is this, do you think, the economic root, perhaps, of two Palestinian states, if they can’t work together on this money?
Ross: Well, it’s gonna be hard to produce that, because in the end what you’re gonna have in Gaza is a failed state. This is an area that has about 70 percent functional unemployment. It needs to be able to trade with Israel, and if Hamas is in fact controlling the crossing points, the Israelis are very unlikely to believe that there’s going to be security at the crossing points. Or they can count on bombs not being smuggled in. So if, in fact, Hamas wants to be adopting a position where it’s able to do better within Gaza, it’s going to have to adjust its behaviors.
Ryssdal: On the larger political point, is Western money going to be able to help solve in any way the Palestinian’s divisions?
Ross: You know, I’m not sure that it can solve the division, but it can begin to make it clear that certain kinds of behaviors really do benefit. We do have an interest in having Fatah in the West Bank, especially if it will reform itself, demonstrate that it’s a model of success. We have a real interest in having moderates look like they’re successful at a time when Islamists are not.
What we’ve seen in the Middle East more generally is it’s the Islamists who always seem to be on a roll and the moderates who always seem to be on the defensive. So helping to promote a moderate model of success could be something that’s important not only for Palestinians, but also for the region more generally.
Ryssdal: The Palestinian Authority’s never been a model of accounting rectitude. How concerned would you be if you were Secretary of State Rice about this money getting to where it’s supposed to get to?
Ross: Well, I would be concerned. And I think the good news is that you have Salam Fayyad, who is a highly credible figure, who is both the prime minister and the finance minister. He actually, knowing him as I do, he is someone who would like some pretty tight restrictions on how everything can operate, because it actually strengthens his hands. He wants transparency for his own reasons, Palestinians need transparency as a way of proving that business is gonna be done differently.
So I would use the fact that we’re now ready to provide the money to work out a very clear system of how it’s gonna go. And I would also use it as a lever to push for reform among Fatah and within Fatah. And I’d have Salam Fayyad focus not only on paying salaries and building an institutionalized structure, but also making sure that outside moneys are gonna go to the grassroots in a way that demonstrates that life is really changing and that Fatah’s really changing.
Ryssdal: Dennis Ross was the envoy to the Middle East for the first President Bush and for President Clinton. His new book is called “State Craft and How to Restore America’s Standing in the World.” Mr. Ross, thanks for your time.
Ross: Thanks so much.
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