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Palestinian National Covenant

The Palestinian National Covenant (or Charter) (in Arabic: al-Mithaq al-Watani al-Filastini) is a historically important document of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). It was adopted at the time of the establishment of the PLO in 1964, and extensively amended in 1968, in the wake of the Six Day War. The final article of the Covenant provides that the covenant can only be amended by a vote of a 2/3 majority of the entire PLO National Congress at a special session convened for that purpose.

As it stands now, the Covenant denies the right of Israel to exist at the expense of a Palestinian state. More specifically, the Covenant calls on the Palestinian nation to serve as the vanguard of Arab and worldwide efforts to liberate Palestine and to destroy Zionism, which the Covenant describes as "a political movement organically associated with international imperialism and antagonistic to all action for liberation and to progressive movements in the world".

The Oslo I peace treaty required the PLO to "submit the [PLO Covenant] to the Palestinian National Council [PNC] for ... the necessary changes", in order to make the support of a two-state solution explicit. This was to be done so that all of the articles of the Covenant which are ambiguous would be deleted or altered. The Oslo II peace treaty required the PLO to make all these changes within two months of the inauguration of the new Palestinian Council, May 7, 1996.

The PNC did convene on April the 24th, and issued a statement about the changes it would introduce. As a result of the Israeli invasion of the Palestinian territories (some say), further work has come to a halt. Some PLO spokespersons officially remain supportive of what they term an equitable two-state solution, and call upon Israel to re-enter negotiations.

The unupdated PNC as it stands now, from the Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs site

Table of contents
1 Israeli criticism
2 Palestinian view
3 Events of 1998

Israeli criticism

Articles 15, 19, 20, 22, and 23 of the Covenant explicitly deny Israel's right to exist. Articles 1-6, 8, 11-14, 16-18, 21, 24-26, 28 and 29 implicitly deny the State of Israel's right to exist. These articles claim that Palestinian Arabs have the sole right to all of the land. Articles 7, 9 and 10 call all Arabs to support an armed struggle against the State of Israel. Articles 27 and 30 indirectly call for violence. A total of 30 of the 33 articles in the Covenant effectively deny Israel's right to exist.

The PNC was never amended, as far as the Palestinian side is concerned. On April 24, 1996, the PNC met in Gaza, but they did not revoke or change the covenant. They issued a statement saying that it had become aged, and that an undefined part of it would be rewritten at an undetermined date in the future. While the English language press release stated that the PLO Covenant was "hereby amended", the Arabic version of Yassir Arafat's letter on this declaration stated:

It has been decided upon: 1. Changing the Palestine National Charter by canceling 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 PNC will appoint a legal committee with the task of redrafting the National Charter. The Charter will be presented to the first meeting of the Central Council.

Peace Watch, a left-wing Israeli peace group that promotes the creation of a Palestinian state, issued this statement, which represents the way most Israelis feel:
The decision fails to meet the obligations laid out in the Oslo accords in two respects. First, the actual amendment of the Covenant has been left for a future date. As of now, the old Covenant, in its original form, remains the governing document of the PLO, and will continue in this status until the amendments are actually approved... There is a sharp difference between calling for something to change and actually implementing the changes. Second, the decision does not specify which clauses will be amended.

Palestinian view

Some say that the following PLO position paper on the Covenant, from the Research and Thought Department of Fatah, sums up in the best way Palestinian attitude to changing the Covenant.

The PLO's internal document on this matter stated that changing the Covenant would have been "suicide for the PLO" It continued:

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, not annulled. The drafting of the new National Covenant will take into account the extent of Israeli fulfillment of its previous and coming obligations... evil and corrupt acts are expected from the Israeli side... The fact that the PNC did not hold a special session to make changes and amendments in the text of the National Covenant at this stage... was done to defend the new Covenant from being influenced by the current Israeli dictatorship.

Faisal Hamdi Husseini, head of the legal committee appointed by the PNC, stated "There has been a decision to change the Covenant. The change has not yet been carried out".

Events of 1998

Yasser Arafat wrote letters to President Clinton and Prime Minister Blair in January 1998 which purported to list the articles of the Charter that had been affected by the PNC's 1996 vote. While this was seen as progress in some quarters, other Palestinian officials contended that the Charter had not yet been amended, and there were also reportedly discrepancies between the two letters. Observers who had previously been skeptical of Palestinian claims that the Charter had been amended continued to voice doubts.

In an attempt to end the confusion, the Wye River Memorandum included the following provision:

The Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Central Council will reaffirm the letter of 22 January 1998 from PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat to President Clinton concerning the nullification of the Palestinian National Charter provisions that are inconsistent with the letters exchanged between the PLO and the Government of Israel on 9-10 September 1993. PLO Chairman Arafat, the Speaker of the Palestine National Council, and the Speaker of the Palestinian Council will invite the members of the PNC, as well as the members of the Central Council, the Council, and the Palestinian Heads of Ministries to a meeting to be addressed by President Clinton to reaffirm their support for the peace process and the aforementioned decisions of the Executive Committee and the Central Council.
These commitments were kept, leading President Clinton to declare to the assembled Palestinian officials on December 14, 1998:
I thank you for your rejection—fully, finally and forever—of the passages in the Palestinian Charter calling for the destruction of Israel. For they were the ideological underpinnings of a struggle renounced at Oslo. By revoking them once and for all, you have sent, I say again, a powerful message not to the government, but to the people of Israel. You will touch people on the street there. You will reach their hearts there.
Yet despite President Clinton's optimism, the events of 1998 did not resolve the controversy of the Charter. A June 1999 report by the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Information on the status of the Charter made no mention of the 1998 events, leading Palestinians continue to state that the Charter has not yet been amended, and an official text of the letter referenced in the Wye River Memorandum is very hard to come by. Reportedly, the operative language of Arafat's letter to Clinton reads:
The Palestine National Council's resolution, in accordance with Article 33 of the Covenant, is a comprehensive amendment of the Covenant. All of the provisions of the Covenant which are inconsistent with the P.L.O. commitment to recognize and live in peace side by side with Israel are no longer in effect.
As a result, Articles 6-10, 15, 19-23, and 30 have been nullified, and the parts in Articles 1-5, 11-14, 16-18, 25-27 and 29 that are inconsistent with the above mentioned commitments have also been nullified.
The articles identified by Arafat as nullified call for Palestinian unity in armed struggle, deny the legitimacy of the establishment of Israel, deny the existence of a Jewish people with a historical or religious connection to Palestine, and label Zionism a racist, imperialist, fanatic, fascist, aggressive, colonialist political movement that must be eliminated from the Middle East for the sake of world peace.