James Cooper

Did the PA Ever Revise Its Charter Calling for the Destruction of Israel?

President Biden is currently intent on pushing for a two-state solution once the IDF does the hard job of clearing out Hamas from Gaza.

Biden proposes to give Gaza into the hands of the Palestinian Authority (the PA), based on the presumption that the PA has unequivocally confirmed that it had long ago nullified those articles in the Palestinian National Covenant (also known as the PLO Charter) calling for the destruction of Israel.

But is the PA still technically committed to the destruction of Israel? Unless the PA has officially amended the Palestinian National Covenant, then it is still official PA policy to destroy the State of Israel. So, did they revise the PLO Charter in accordance with the Oslo Accords?

Let’s examine if they did. According to Article 33 of the PLO Charter:

This charter can not be amended except by a two-thirds majority of all the members of the National Assembly in a special session called for this purpose.

In a special session held by the Palestinian National Council on April 24, 1996, 504 members voted in favour of amending the PLO Charter, 54 against, and 14 abstentions. However, according to Wikipedia:

In 1996, when the Council had to vote on the revision of the Palestinian National Charter, the total number of PNC members was increased from 400 to about 800.

In sum, only 63% of the total PNC members (504 out of 800) voted to nullify the offending articles, falling just short of the two-thirds majority needed to comply with Article 33 in order to have any legal effect. In any case, this was a vote to agree to amend the Charter. It did not itself result in a formally amended Charter.

But it gets better. Here is how the controversy continued, according to this Wikipedia entry:

Yasser Arafat wrote letters to President Clinton and Prime Minister Blair in January 1998 explicitly listing the articles of the Charter referred to in 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.

The Israelis complained that the letter had no legal effect. In response, Arafat invited President Clinton to personally witness an assembly in Gaza called on December 14, 1998. The meeting was officially described as the Palestinian Popular Congress to Confirm Nullification Articles of National Charter. Here is a summary of that assembly, attended by President Clinton:

In addition to the Central Council vote on 10 December supporting the letter that Arafat sent Clinton on 22 January 1998, and in accordance with the Wye River Memorandum , a meeting is held on 14 December in Gaza , with the participation of members of the Palestine National Council , Palestinian Legislative Council , Central Council , cabinet, and other Palestinian institutions (described by the Palestinians as “The Palestinian Popular Congress “). Toward the end of his speech in the presence of President Clinton, Arafat calls on participants to raise their hands in support of his letter to the US president. Participants raise their hands. No counting is made.

And that’s it – an uncounted show of hands to confirm support of a non-binding letter that Arafat sent out, offering Arafat’s personal interpretation of the April 1996 vote that fell 3% short of the required two-thirds of PNC members needed to make it legal.

Currently, there does not exist any published form of this Charter without the articles calling for the destruction of Israel. Other than President Clinton witnessing this uncounted show of hands in 1998, we have no definitive proof that the offending clauses of the PLO Charter were ever legally annulled by a two-thirds vote of all PNC members, as required pursuant to Article 33 of the PLO Charter.

According to Wikipedia. that uncounted show of hands put the controversy to an end. Meanwhile, to anyone viewing Wikipedia, there currently exists a “State of Palestine” (declared in 1988, five years before Oslo) whose borders are awarded by Wikipedia to encompass the entire land area of the West Bank and Gaza (though the PLO 1988 “declaration of independence” never specified what the declared borders of “the State of Palestine” were).

In one fell swoop, anyone studying Wikipedia now believes that the entire West Bank is part of the State of Palestine – though, according to the Oslo Accords, the final legal status of Areas A, B, and C in the West Bank and Gaza remain to be determined through negotiation with Israel.

What is clear is that the text of the PLO’s 1988 Declaration of Independence never defined the borders of their declared state to be just within the armistice borders of the West Bank and Gaza – and, in fact, never specifically refers to these territories:

The Palestine National Council, in the name of God, and in the name of the Palestinian Arab people, hereby proclaims the establishment of the State of Palestine on our Palestinian territory with its capital Jerusalem (Al-Quds Ash-Sharif).

In 1988, the PLO had no presence in either the West Bank or Gaza – nor had it yet been offered any official presence in just those territories. As of 1988, it was still claiming all of the former Palestine Mandate as an indivisible whole.

Thirty-five years later, it still remains to be seen whether the PA is truly reconciled to accepting the existence of the State of Israel, or instead, remains committed – as per the PLO’s 1974 Phased Plan – to accept the existence of a Palestinian National Authority on any portion of “liberated” Palestinian land, as a phase toward the ultimate goal of expunging the State of Israel from the entirety of the area that had formerly comprised the Palestine Mandate.

About the Author
James Cooper is a practicing lawyer in the Greater Toronto Area. He has written and spoken publicly on matters of interest to the legal profession and to the Jewish community at large.
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