Didn’t the PLO finally revise its charter on Israel, opening the way to peace?
Terrorist Bombing Strikes Jerusalem, March 21, 2002
The Palestinian National Covenant
The Palestinian National Covenant is the founding charter of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), adopted at the PLO’s founding congress in May 1964. The Covenant sets forth the organization’s stated aims and goals. Almost all of the articles in the Covenant explicitly or implicitly deny Israel’s right to exist and reject any peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
For example, these articles:
- Article 19: The establishment of Israel is fundamentally null and void, whatever time has elapsed …
- Article 15: [We call for] the liquidation of the Zionist presence in Palestine
- Article 22: The liberation of Palestine will destroy the Zionist and imperialist presence and will contribute to the establishment of peace in the Middle East …
The Covenant also denies the existence of the Jewish people as a nation and any ties that it might have to the Land of Israel [Article 20: “Nor do Jews constitute a single nation”]. It declares in Article 9 that “armed struggle is the only [emphasis added] way to liberate Palestine”. The bottom line is that the Palestinian National Covenant calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. The Israelis, quite naturally, thought that the inflammatory language should be changed before they could consider the PLO to be a serious “partner for peace”.
What did Yasser Arafat agree to do?
In a letter dated September 9, 1993 — part of the Oslo Accords — signed by Yasser Arafat as Chairman of the PLO, Arafat agreed that:
- … the PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assure their compliance, prevent violations and discipline violators
- … those articles of the Palestinian Covenant which deny Israel’s right to exist, and the provisions of the Covenant which are inconsistent with the commitments of this letter are now inoperative and no longer valid
- … the PLO undertakes to submit to the Palestinian National Council for formal approval the necessary changes in regard to the Palestinian Covenant.
But nothing was done to change the Covenant. The requirement was restated in another letter from Arafat to Rabin which accompanied the May 4, 1994 Agreement on the Gaza Strip and Jericho Area (the Cairo Agreement), but no action was taken by Arafat and the PLO. Because the changes were not made, the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement (Oslo II) made the requirement even more specific:
- ARTICLE XXXI (9) The PLO undertakes that, within two months of the date of the inauguration of the Council, the Palestinian National Council will convene and formally approve the necessary changes in regard to the Palestinian Covenant, as undertaken in the letters signed by the Chairman of the PLO and addressed to the Prime Minister of Israel, dated September 9, 1993 and May 4, 1994.
What actions were taken by the PLO to live up to its agreements?
The Oslo II agreement was signed on September 24, 1995 but the change was not made within the time period specified. On April 24, 1996 there was a vote by the PLO’s Palestine National Council. The vote was widely reported in the media as having repealed the clauses of the PLO Charter which deny Israel’s right to exist and call for its destruction through violence. The governments of the United States and of Israel welcomed the vote, stating that it marked the fulfillment of the Palestinian obligation on the Covenant. But, again, that was not actually the case. The PNC action, which has not been officially fully disclosed, only stated an intention to make changes at a future date and did not specify, in detail, the changes that would be made. The matter was referred to a legal committee for study. No specific anti-Israel clauses in the Covenant were declared officially abrogated. Moreover, the process was incomplete because the PNC did not draft a new Covenant. After winning the election in May 1996, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu declared the failure to revise the Covenant to be a violation of the agreements by the Palestinians. In the 1997 Hebron Agreement, it was specifically noted, again, that the PLO was commited to, “Complete the process of revising the Palestinian National Charter.” Thereafter, Arafat and the PLO governing bodies insisted that they were in compliance based on the PNC vote in 1996, but legal analysts do not agree. In January 1998, Chairman Arafat sent letters to President Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair purporting to “put to rest” concerns about the PNC resolution and setting out a list of articles supposedly canceled or amended by the decision. But personal statements by Arafat have no legal effect; only a vote of 2/3 of the PNC can ammend the Covenant (Article 33). On December 14, 1998, the Palestinian National Council, in accordance with the Wye Memorandum, which required compliance with the earlier agreements, convened in Gaza in the presence of US President Clinton and voted to reaffirm their decision to amend the Covenant. But, again, this was insubstantial window dressing. Their action didn’t actually amend the Covenant and the Palestinian Authority remained in violation of the lengthening series of agreements. Although the Palestinian National Council (PNC) has twice taken formal decisions to revise the Palestinian National Covenant (1996 and 1998) calling for Israel’s destruction, the PNC Chairman, Salim Za’anoun, stated on February 3, 2001, in the official Palestinian Authority newspaper, that the Palestinian Covenant remained unchanged and was still in force [Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, 3 February 2001, as translated by MEMRI]. Former CIA Director James Woolsey said:
- Arafat has been like Lucy with the football, treating the rest of the world as Charlie Brown. He and the PNC keep telling everyone they’ve changed the charter, without actually changing it.
This saga of the Covenant revision is an example of the lack of good faith on the part of Arafat and the Palestinian Arabs in the course of the Oslo peace process. But, it probably does not make a difference whether the Covenant is actually revised or not. The hatred and violence directed against Israel by the Palestinian Arabs does not originate with the piece of paper called the Palestinian National Covenant.