Salam Fayyad and Tarek Masoud.

Salam Fayyad (left) in conversation with Tarek Masoud.

Niles Singer/Harvard Staff Photographer

Nation & World

Roadmap to Gaza peace may run through Oslo

Former Palestinian Authority prime minister says strengthening execution of 1993 accords could lead to two-state solution 

6 min read

Former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad highlighted a proposed path to peace in the Middle East built around a commitment to nonviolence, unification of factions under an expanded PLO, and, eventually, a state in Gaza and the West Bank.

Fayyad, who spoke with Professor Tarek Masoud at a Harvard Kennedy School event Tuesday, said he believes Israel’s stated goals in the Gaza Strip, which include eradicating Hamas, “range from the impossible to the highly unattainable.” He said any workable future involves re-unifying Gaza and the West Bank under a single “polity.” Hamas has ruled Gaza and the Palestinian Authority (PA) has overseen the West Bank since 2007.

It is up to the Palestinians, he said, to realize the promise of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which outlined a process giving them greater autonomy but stopping short of creating a separate state. Fayyad said that agreement has turned out to be lopsidedly in Israel’s favor, a major factor in its rejection by several Palestinian factions and the unrest that has roiled the region since. 

Fayyad currently is a visiting professor at Princeton University and senior fellow at HKS’s Middle East Initiative. He served as Palestinian Authority prime minister from 2007 until 2013. The discussion was the fourth installment of the Initiative’s Middle East Dialogues, organized by Masoud, the group’s faculty chair and the Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Governance.

Masoud said few could offer a “more vital perspective” on the situation than Fayyad.

The former PA official said Oslo had in many ways turned out to be something of “a trap,” allowing delay and inaction, but its framework has so entwined itself into Palestinian life that it would be difficult to undo. Instead, he said, it is up to the Palestinians to do what is necessary to strengthen the agreement’s execution and bring a state into being. 

Fayyad envisions a path that begins with a commitment to nonviolence on the part of all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, and the expansion of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), considered the official representative of the Palestinian people in the international arena, to encompass all groups at the table. After that, there would be a peaceful transition period leading to elections. 

“I think the only sensible solution that is before us is to actually strengthen it,” Fayyad said of Oslo. “If it was meant to be weak so that it would not turn into a state by design and would end up being an instrument of disempowerment, we should rebel against that not by dismantling it, but by actually strengthening to prove that it can actually transform itself into a state.”

While some may call that process unrealistic, Fayyad said it provides a clear alternative to the massive death and destruction currently occurring in Gaza, where nearly 32,000 have been killed and 74,000 injured.

Fayyad, who decried Hamas’ initial attack on Israel on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200, said the scale of Israel’s attack and its associated horrors quickly escalated past any reasonable definition of a response into what can be seen as a war of aggression.

“Our people in Gaza are suffering the most, but for the rest of us, myself included, it’s that deep sense of helplessness, that deep sense of guilt that will stay with us,” Fayyad said. “It’s the kind of thing that will stay with us for many, many generations to come.”

The 90-minute session featured Fayyad answering questions from first Masoud and then members of the audience. In his responses, Fayyad said that in assigning blame for the lack of progress toward a state, Palestinians should first look at the factionalism rife within their own politics, which has prevented the emergence of a unified voice that might move things forward. 

That criticism, Fayyad said, does not absolve Israel of blame, however. Fayyad questioned whether Israel ever really wanted a Palestinian state to emerge, pointing to both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition to the Oslo Accords and, more specifically, a time during Fayyad’s term as prime minister when an extended period of peace did not lead to the expected — and requested — replacement of Israeli troops by Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, a step that might have been seen as hopeful progress toward a Palestinian state. 

“Israel projects its security as paramount … but Israelis who insist on making that point without looking at the other side of the equation would be hard-pressed to explain why it is that when security conditions in West Bank improved markedly for four to five years … they did nothing to change their security policy in West Bank,” Fayyad said. “They resisted any conversation.”

Masoud questioned Fayyad’s inclusion of Hamas in his proposal, saying that many, including many Israelis, would say the Oslo process failed directly because of terror attacks by Hamas and other factions.  Fayyad responded, however, that Hamas is a part of the Palestinian political landscape and, like the PLO before it, has the ability to change. 

“We know it happened before … so whether or not it would happen again is something else,” Fayyad said. “But then, as a practical matter, we look at what is doable. To start the conversation by saying we need to eliminate these forces and factions, they are spoilers.”

Efforts to dictate who can be at the table even before negotiations start obstruct progress, he noted. 

“When we’re talking about ideologies and political movements, I think it’s just totally wrong to speak in those terms to begin with. Hamas is a political movement. It is an ideology, so therefore it cannot be destroyed,” Fayyad said. “You can’t destroy ideologies, but you can defeat them with a competitive ideology.”