One Year Later, New PLO Covenant Nowhere to Be Found
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - One year after President Clinton's historic visit to the Palestinian Authority-ruled Gaza Strip, promised amendments to the Palestine Liberation Organization's charter are nowhere to be found.
In the presence of Clinton and with much fanfare, the Palestinian National Council (PNC) voted by a show of hands to annul clauses in the PLO covenant or charter that call for the destruction of the State of Israel.
The covenant governs the activities not only of the PLO but also of the PA, effectively the governing arm of Yasser Arafat's PLO. Many Israelis, irrespective of their view of the Oslo process, argued that a peace partner could not retain a document calling for the destruction of the other side.
Arafat, who is chairman of both the PLO and PA, promised several times to annul the covenant, but said it required a meeting of the PNC to do so. Finally, in late 1998 - five years after the first Israeli-Palestinian agreements were signed - a clause was written into the Wye River agreement again calling for this annulment.
According to the memorandum, Palestinian decision-making bodies would meet in the presence of Clinton to "reaffirm the letter of 22 January, 1998 from PLO Chairman Arafat to President Clinton concerning the nullification of the Palestinian National Charter provisions that are inconsistent with . . . [the PLO's earlier written undertakings of an end to a violent campaign against Israel.]"
That meeting, in Gaza on December 14, 1998, was described by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as "quite an extraordinary day."
One week later, goodwill forgotten, some of the same U.S. flags used to welcome Clinton to Gaza were being burned in the streets by Palestinian demonstrators.
And now, a full year later, it appears no revised version of the covenant exists.
Numerous calls by CNSNews.com to various departments of the PA, from the President's office to the Archives, failed to produce any information regarding the covenant or a document indicating that such changes had in fact been made.
Independent political analyst Aaron Lerner told CNSNews.com that he has searched for the document himself and did not believe it exists.
An official from the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center (JMCC), a Palestinian political analysis organization, agrees.
"It was all verbal," he told CNSNews.com, adding that he did not think the verbal vote made the changes binding.
"Whenever this topic is mentioned [the PA says] 'we voted for peace.' President Clinton said it was an 'adequate step.' But they [PNC] did not even mention item by item [the changes to be made]."
The JMCC representative, who would not give his full name, said the PA believes it was enough to say that "peace is the strategy of the Palestinian people."
All 33 articles of the Palestinian National Covenant, written in 1964 and revised in 1968, can be found in the 1968 version, still available on the PLO's official Internet website. The site bears a note saying the charter "does not include Oslo-required modification" but gives no indication what that "modification" might be.
Article nine still calls for "armed struggle" as "the only way to liberate Palestine." Article 15 says the "liberation of Palestine ... is a national duty to repulse the Zionist, Imperialist invasion . . . and to purge the Zionist presence from Palestine." Article 19 says the United Nations "partition of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of Israel is fundamentally null and void, whatever time has elapsed."
(It is important to note that the charter was written before Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza. Thus threats to purge the Zionists from Palestine refer to Israel-proper, not just from those areas deemed "occupied" by the international community.)
Nadia Sartawi, the official in charge of protocol, public relations and foreign affairs in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) told CNSNews.com that the covenant covers the entire "Palestinian nation - not only the PA but representing all Palestinian people throughout the world."
"That covenant is the constitution of the PLO. The [PA] is just a branch of it."
Even though the elected PLC makes laws for the PA, it still falls under the jurisdiction of the PLO covenant, he said.
Asked about the authority exercised by the PLO and its charter over the PA, Sartawi replied: "It's a diplomatic question. Nobody knows the borders between the PLO and the PA. There is a whole debate about it."
Murray Kahl of the U.S.-based Conference for Middle East Peace told CNSNews.com Thursday he had publicly offered a $15,000 reward to anyone who could come up with a revised copy of the PLO charter, but gave up "after it was apparent there was no change."