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Palestinian PM strikes surprisingly optimistic tone in interview

By Suzanne Malveaux, CNN White House Correspondent
  • The Palestinian prime minister believes Mideast peace will be achieved this time
  • He credits President Obama as being a key reason for his optimism
  • Still at issue is the moratorium on Israeli settlements on disputed land

Washington (CNN) -- As President Barack Obama called Thursday for world leaders to support a deadline for creating a Palestinian state within a year, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad surprisingly offered a confident assessment that it could indeed happen.

"A key reason is Barack Obama himself, actually -- the fact that he has fingered this issue out for early attention, early on in his presidency, and the fact that he and his team, Secretary (of State Hillary) Clinton, (Mideast envoy) George Mitchell, are working very hard with the parties to try and get that critical process moving," Fayyad said in an interview with CNN.

Fayyad explained that he believes Middle East peace will be achieved this time around -- despite the fact it has failed so many times before -- because the Palestinians have been shoring up the capabilities of their own institutions.

"We in the Palestinian authority have been doing to help ourselves, in the form of getting our institutions to rise to a level of maturity in terms of capacity to govern ourselves effectively in all seats of government as well as also getting a critical mass of infrastructure that is necessary for a state to emerge," said Fayyad.

At the White House in September, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time in nearly 10 years to restart direct talks. Since then they've met in Egypt and Jerusalem, but no date has yet been set for a third round of talks. But Fayyad strongly denies the talks are dead. "Far from it," he said.

"I hope progress will not be measured or monitored on the basis of how many rounds of discussions have taken place. We can accomplish in one round that which will elude you in terms of progress and result in 10 rounds. It really depends on how focused the discussions are," Fayyad concluded.

But the one issue that will complicate whether the Israelis and Palestinians continue their negotiations is whether or not Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extends the 10-month moratorium on building Jewish settlements on disputed land. That moratorium expires on September 26 -- Sunday. Abbas has threatened to cut off talks if Netanyahu allows Jewish settlements to expand in the West Bank.

Fayyad called it "a very difficult situation that needs to be dealt with" but refused to say whether it's a deal-breaker for negotiations to continue. If Netanyahu allows the settlements to go forward, the Palestinian prime minister said, "that would grossly undermine the credibility of the political process...I hope sincerely that it will be possible for the government of Israel to reconsider its position on a very, very important issue."