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Failure to Amend the PLO Covenant

Donderdag, Januari 29, 1998

Failure to Amend the PLO Covenant

Communicated by the Israel Government Press Office, January 29, 1998

Following is a clarification of 4 myths concerning the PLO
Covenant:

1)
Myth: The PLO fulfilled its obligation to amend the Covenant
when the Palestinian National Council (PNC) voted in April 1996 to
alter the document.

Fact: On September 9, 1993, in his exchange of letters with the
late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Yasser Arafat committed himself
to amending the articles in the PLO Covenant which deny Israel’s
right to exist or run counter to the PLO’s other commitments, such
as the renunciation of violence and terror.

On April 24, 1996, the Palestinian National Council (PNC) convened
in Gaza and adopted a resolution concerning the Covenant by a vote
of 504 to 54 with 14 abstentions. Translated from the Arabic, the
text of the resolution read as follows:

    “It has been decided upon:

    1. Amending the National Charter by cancelling the articles that
    are contrary to the letters exchanged between the PLO and the
    Government of Israel, on September 9 and 10, 1993.

    2. The empowerment of a legal committee with the task of redrafting
    the National Charter. The Charter will be presented to the first
    meeting of the Central Council.”

The pivotal problem with the PNC resolution is that it did not
change the Covenant. While the PNC declared its readiness in
principle to change the document, the only practical step taken was
the empowerment of a legal committee to draft a new Covenant for
presentation at a future date. Since the Covenant is a legally
binding document, declaring a willingness to alter it does not
amount to amending it. No changes were adopted and implemented by
the PNC, nor was there any specific mention of articles to be
amended.

In the Note for the Record which accompanied the January 15, 1997
Hebron Protocol, the PLO reaffirmed its commitment to “Complete the
process of revising the Palestinian National Charter.” In agreeing
to this, the PLO was admitting that it had failed to change the
Covenant in the April 1996 PNC vote, otherwise there would be no
need to “complete the process” of revising it.

2) Myth: Chairman Arafat’s recent letters to President Bill
Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair set the record straight
regarding which articles in the Covenant were changed.

Fact: There are three problems with Chairman Arafat’s recent
letters concerning the PNC’s April 1996 decision.
First, the PNC resolution made no mention of specific articles
which were being changed in the Covenant. Now, some 21 months after
the PNC vote, Arafat is attempting to retroactively define the
articles which the PNC members had in mind when they cast their
votes.

Second, Chairman Arafat’s letters to President Clinton and Prime
Minister Tony Blair contradict each other. In his letter to
President Clinton, Arafat listed 12 articles which had been
entirely nullified (Articles 6 to 10, 15, 19 to 23, and 30) and 16
others partially nullified (Articles 1 to 5, 11 to 14, 16 to 18, 25
to 27, and 29). In his letter to Blair, Arafat listed 9 articles
which had been entirely nullified (Articles 6, 10, 15, 19 to 23 and
30) and 14 others which were partially nullified (Articles 1 to 5,
13, 14, 16 to 18, 25 to 27 and 29).

Thus, Arafat asserted in his letter to Clinton that 28 articles in
the Covenant had been altered, whereas in his letter to Blair he
said that 23 had been changed.

Third, Arafat’s letters contradict statements made shortly after
the PNC vote and repeated recently by a wide variety of senior
Palestinian officials. Less than a month after the PNC vote, PNC
Chairman Selim Zaanoun asserted that the Covenant had been amended
but said that “no specific articles” were cancelled. (An-Nahar, May
16, 1996) In an interview on January 22, 1998, Faisal Hamdi
Husseini, head of the PNC’s legal committee, said “The change has
not yet been carried out”.

The day after the PNC vote, Sufian Abu Zaidah, head of the PA’s
Israel desk, claimed that all 33 of the Covenant’s articles had
been “cancelled” and that it had been replaced by the PNC’s 1988
Algiers declaration. (interview with Israel Radio, April 25, 1996)
PA Planning Minister Nabil Shaath said after the vote that 16
articles had been altered while other PNC members claimed that 4,
7 or 10 articles had been changed (Jerusalem Post, May 1, 1996).
Faisal Hamdi Husseini, head of the PNC’s legal committee, said on
May 5, 1996 that he would submit a new Covenant for approval at a
later date in which 21 articles would be changed, thereby implying
that none had been amended. (Jerusalem Post, May 6, 1996)

At the time of the vote, other PLO officials acknowledged the
Covenant had not been changed. PLO Executive Committee member Sakhr
Habash said, “the text of the charter remains as it is since it has
not been amended yet. Therefore, it is frozen, not cancelled.”
(An-Nahar, May 5, 1996) An internal report published shortly after
the PNC vote by the Research and Thought Department of Arafat’s
Fatah faction of the PLO contained a similar determination. The
report stated, “The text of the Palestinian National Covenant
remains as it was and no changes whatsoever were made to it. This
has caused it to be frozen, but not annulled.”

The PNC itself failed to make any mention of changing the Covenant
in its closing statement. At the close of its session, on April 25,
1996, the PNC published a concluding document summarizing its
activity. The statement included 19 specific resolutions and
decisions on subjects ranging from Jerusalem to Israeli
settlements, but contained no reference to any decision to amend
the Covenant. (Al-Quds, April 26, 1996; Voice of Palestine, April
26, 1996)

3) Myth: Chairman Arafat’s letters effectively complete the
process of revising the Covenant.

Fact: Article 33 of the Covenant states that the only body
empowered to change the document is the Palestinian National
Council (PNC) and that such changes must be approved by a
two-thirds majority of the PNC in a special session. Thus, Chairman
Arafat’s letters are insufficient. Under the procedure outlined by
the Covenant itself, Arafat’s letters have no legal bearing on the
text of the document. The PLO’s obligation to convene the PNC in
order to amend the Covenant remains unfulfilled.

4) Myth: The PLO Covenant is an outdated document of no
significance.

Fact: The Palestinian National Covenant is the founding charter of
the PLO, delineating the organization’s stated aims and goals. Its
tenets are echoed daily in the rhetoric of Palestinian leaders and
media. 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, Article 19
states, “the establishment of Israel is fundamentally null and
void, whatever time has elapsed ” Article 22 asserts that, “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). It declares that “armed struggle is the only way to
liberate Palestine and is therefore a strategy and not tactics”
(Article 9).

A document Israel submitted to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in
mid-January 1998 details the necessary steps to amend the Covenant:

Stage One

a. issuance of a statement by the legal committee specifying the
articles of the Covenant which were amended or annulled in
accordance with the April 1996 Palestinian National Council (PNC)
decision (i.e. the articles in the Covenant which are inconsistent
with the Palestinian obligations in the framework of the peace
process).

Stage Two

b. reconvening of the PNC to pass a new resolution which affirms
the statement issued by the legal committee concerning which
specific articles in the Covenant were amended or annulled.

At the same time, the Palestinian Authority must refrain from
replacing the articles with other articles which contradict the
agreements and/or the peace process, for such a step would be
considered a failure to fulfill their obligation to amend the
requisite articles in the Covenant.”

To comply with their obligation, the Palestinians must amend 26 of
the 33 articles in the Covenant which deny Israel’s right to exist
or advocate violence and terror. The articles which must be changed
are: 1-15, 18-23, 25-27 29 and 30.

The Covenant’s continued relevance to Palestinians was underlined
by a recent article in the official PA newspaper Al-Hayat
Al-Jadeeda, which said, “many in the Palestinian public still
believe in the Covenant and see it as our nations’ only source of
authority in the current and upcoming stages of the conflict The
Covenant from ‘A’ to ‘Z’ is a Palestinian document which battles
the Zionists ” (Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, October 19, 1997)

As the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said in a speech to the
Knesset on October 5, 1995, “the Palestinian Authority has not up
until now honored its commitment to change the Palestinian Covenant
I view these changes as a supreme test of the Palestinian
Authority’s willingness and ability, and the changes required will
be an important and serious touchstone vis-a-vis the continued
implementation of the agreement as a whole.”

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