The Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad yesterday unveiled a detailed blueprint for completing the independent state he insisted would be ready in 2011 if Israel lived up to its "moment of reckoning" in the coming weeks of negotiations.
Mr Fayyad said the direct negotiations due to open in Washington on Thursday after a dinner summit hosted by President Barack Obama would be crucial in answering key questions about the stance of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In his assessment of the coming talks, the Palestinian Prime Minister said the Palestinians' goal for a political process was an end to the Israeli occupation which had begun with the 1967 Six-Day War and two states living side by side. "It can and must happen," he added. "Each day this conflict is not resolved makes a two-state solution less likely."
Mr Netanyahu and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas fly to Washington today to begin a negotiating process which faces its first big hurdle over the issue of whether a partial moratorium on construction in Jewish settlements in occupied territory can be extended beyond its planned end date of 26 September.
Mr Abbas has been threatening to pull out of the talks if settlement construction resumed, while the Israeli Prime Minister told his Likud ministers last night that Israel had made "no proposals" to the Americans on the settlement freeze. He had, instead, said that the future of the settlements would be discussed as one of the elements of a final deal, along with the others, like borders, Jerusalem and refugees.
Mr Fayyad added that "there is not a whole lot of time to waste," warning of "adverse facts" created on the ground that will make the two-state solution "more and more difficult to implement". He added that the talks would have to answer questions such as "What kind of state does Mr Netanyahu have in mind when he says 'Palestinian state'"?
"I think this is a most fundamental question," he went on. "I believe, without wishing to really prejudge what will happen in the next few days, the next few weeks, we are approaching that moment of reckoning." He declined to encourage suggestions that the Palestinians might unilaterally declare a state if the talks break down, saying: "I am not ready to speculate on what will happen if it doesn't work because it can."
At the head of the series of 2010-11 reforms envisaged in Mr Fayyad's detailed blueprint, ranging from security to water and sewerage, from education to health and the rights of women, is a section on prisons, courts and the judicial process in the planned Palestinian state, in a section on "Justice and the Rule of Law".
The priority attached to the subject tackles head-on one of the main concerns of outside bodies such as the World Bank, which has warmly praised the strides made by the Palestinian Authority under his premiership in its provision of public services, but has warned that its justice provision is still in need of greater transparency.
The proposals include the appointment of 19 to 24 new judges, the expansion of training for lawyers, judges and court officers and the "building of a penal system which unfailingly respects human rights." Fatah dominated security forces – like those operated by Hamas in Gaza – have been accused in the past of abuses during the detention of political dissidents and others.
The programme also contains an innovative proposal to issue Palestinian government bonds. Mr Fayyad, a former senior World Bank official, acknowledged that some of the details had not been worked out but stressed that one of the leadership's goals was steadily to reduce the Palestinian dependence on foreign aid, especially to fund its current account.
Launching the details of the second year of the two-year programme the Prime Minister said its aim was to achieve "a critical mass of positive change on the ground" by next year to usher in a Palestinian state. He added: "What we are doing on the ground reinforces the political process. We will have dealt with the scepticism that the Palestinian people are capable of governing themselves. We will be ready to take care of the needs of our people when the occupation comes to an end."
Mr Fayyad also went out of his way to apologise yesterday for the fracas at a political meeting in Ramallah last week of critics – including independent figures – demanding that Mr Abbas should not enter negotiations with Mr Netanyahu unless all settlement building was halted in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The meeting was broken up by men who are now acknowledged to have been members of the security forces. An investigation has been ordered and Mr Fayyad said the security services should take full responsibility and also apologise. "I apologise but I have full confidence in them," he said.