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Palestinian State Institutions In 2 Years: Prime Minister

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RAMALLAH, West Bank — Institutions for an independent Palestinian state should be up and running within two years, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said Monday, for the first time setting such a target date.

Little state-building was accomplished in the first decade after the Palestinian Authority was established in the mid-1990s, at a time when the late Yasser Arafat, known for his chaotic style of governing, was at the helm.

In recent years, the international community has focused on institution building, including training the Palestinian security forces and modernizing government ministries.

Well-run government institutions will make a strong case for ending Israeli occupation, said Fayyad, a respected economist.

"It is possible to build the institutions of the state in two years, and this will put before the entire world the political requirement of ending the occupation," said Fayyad, in presenting the two-year program of his government.

However, Fayyad also pointed to one of the main obstacles to statehood _ the internal Palestinian division.

Since the Islamic militant Hamas overran Gaza two years ago, Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Fayyad government have only controlled the West Bank. "Ending the occupation and building the state requires ending the split," Fayyad said.

Also, Israeli control of the West Bank, where there are more than 120 Jewish settlements, is not likely to ease until there is a peace treaty with the Palestinians setting agreed borders. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war. A year of peace talks under Israel's previous, more moderate government made no discernible progress. The current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has taken a tougher stance than his predecessor.

Despite the presentation of a two-year plan, Fayyad's term might not run that long. Egypt has been mediating on-again, off-again reconciliation talks between Hamas and Abbas' Fatah movement. If the talks succeed, Fayyad would probably be replaced as premier by a Hamas leader.

Also Monday, a group that advocates for Arab human rights charged that Israel has been illegally selling houses belonging to Palestinian refugees.

About 700,000 Palestinians fled or were evicted from their homes during the two-year war that followed Israel's creation in 1948. The group, Adalah, charged that Israel's own laws prevent selling their property, but in recent years 250 have been put up for sale.

The Israel Lands Administration did not return repeated telephone requests for comment. Throughout its six decades of existence, Israel has made use of abandoned properties and houses, and it was unclear how these cases differed.

Palestinians demand the right of the refugees and their millions of descendants to return to their original homes or choose compensation. Israel rejects the principle of returning refugees, saying they should be resettled in a Palestinian state, but has offered compensation.

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Associated Press writer Diaa Hadid contributed to this report from Jerusalem.