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Former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Discusses Role of Hamas at Harvard Kennedy School Event

Former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad discussed the war in Gaza in a conversation with professor Tarek E. Masoud Tuesday at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad discussed the war in Gaza in a conversation with professor Tarek E. Masoud Tuesday at the Harvard Kennedy School. By Lara R. Berliner
By William C. Mao and Dhruv T. Patel, Crimson Staff Writers

Former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said the Palestinian Liberation Organization — the coalition internationally recognized as representing the Palestinian people globally — should “include those excluded from it so far, like Hamas, like Islamic Jihadists” at a Harvard Kennedy School event on Tuesday.

The conversation — moderated by HKS professor Tarek E. Masoud — is the fourth installment in Masoud’s “Middle East Dialogues” series, in which Masoud aims to hold “hard conversations” with interviewees who hold a range of perspectives on the war in Gaza.

Fayyad said since Hamas is both a political movement and an ideology, it “cannot be destroyed” and instead should be included in the PLO and broader discussions on the future of Palestine.

“This is a table that’s large enough to accommodate everybody, regardless of their own individual factional political programs,” Fayyad said.

In addition to a more inclusive PLO, Fayyad said he envisioned a “transitional period” in which all PLO factions — including Hamas — would agree to “an ironclad commitment to non-violence.”

During this time, a technocratic government would govern and hold elections to “go back to the people” of Palestine, Fayyad added.

Masoud pushed Fayyad, however, on his call for the PLO to include Hamas and Islamic Jihadists, raising the possibility that Hamas could win the elections and leave Palestine without any progress.

“I could hear an Israeli saying, ‘Well at the end of this transitional period, where you’ll have the election and Hamas will win the election — and then we’re back where we started,” Masoud said.

Fayyad responded that Palestine should not forego an opportunity to allow their citizens vote, saying that Palestinian elections — even if they resulted in a Hamas-led government — would be an improvement to the situation Palestine finds itself in now.

“Let this process run its course,” he said. “That’s better than we have right now. Right now, we have not had elections in a very long period of time.”

Fayyad added that the transitional period could provide space for voters to “regenerate such a possibility about Palestinian statehood.”

“My own sense is, in fact, that we go through a transition that I’m talking to you about and people really get enough of a chance to look at an alternative and what could be possible,” he said.

Masoud also asked about Palestine’s past, raising the question of whether Hamas could have turned “Gaza into a Singapore” had it invested less in weaponry.

Fayyad said that Singapore — the third richest country per capita in the world — was a “high bar” and that Palestine lacked the “conditions under which you can really create that kind of reality.”

“When you have this kind of instability — wars, incursions, rounds of escalation one after another, no freedom of movement to people and goods and all of that — how are you really going to bring about even modest economic development,” Fayyad added.

Fayyad said he accepted Palestinians’ hesitance to adopt past negotiations as “an element in a bigger composition” of factors that contributed to the current circumstances in Palestine.

“We failed because we keep on saying ‘No, no, no, no,’” he said. “I have to tell you, we did not fare too well on countless times we said ‘yes’ either.”

Fayyad said appreciating the humanity of Palestinians is key to finding a solution to the war in Gaza.

“Fundamentally, what is really required is a recalibration, where humanness and humanity of the Palestinians is on par with everyone else,” he said.

—Staff writer Madeleine A. Hung contributed reporting.

—Staff writer William C. Mao can be reached at Follow him on X @williamcmao.

—Staff writer Dhruv T. Patel can be reached at Follow him on X @dhruvtkpatel.

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