Palestinians' tough call: end to anti-Israel words
As Clinton prepares to address the Gaza meeting Dec. 14, Palestinians differ on altering a founding charter seeking Israel's demise.
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But pragmatism began to set in as the PLO gained world condemnation for the acts of terrorism it wrought against targets ranging from Israeli Olympic athletes to random passengers on international planes and ships. At a PNC meeting in 1988, the PLO said it recognized Israel's right to exist but also declared an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.Skip to next paragraph
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Null and void, or war cry?
When the PLO and Israel stunned the world in 1993 by announcing a secret reconciliation deal had been brokered in Oslo, Norway, Arafat said that the 1988 session - as well as the Oslo accord itself - was proof that the charter's anti-Israel articles were null and void.
But to Israelis, the charter remained a threatening war cry that could still encourage acts of terrorism. As they saw it, PLO-sanctioned bloodshed had continued even after the 1988 meeting.
In the September 1993 "Declaration of Principles" and in the subsequent accords, Arafat promised former prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres that he would formally amend the charter. Meeting in April 1996, the PNC in Gaza emerged with the announcement that the charter had been changed.
But Israeli researchers and politicians who have made a career of studying the internal structure of the PLO cried foul. Exactly which of the 33 articles had been changed? Israeli critics say no one could answer.
One of the academics who made a strong indictment of the nebulous state of the Palestinian charter was Yehoshua Porat, a professor of Middle East history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
"The importance is that it's an indication of bad will," says Dr. Porat. "You cannot [make peace] with an organization that is committed to the destruction of Israel and the expulsion of Jews."
To 'reaffirm support'
Though Clinton will be addressing an assembly of Palestinians on Monday to encourage them to amend the charter, the debate is far from over.
The Wye accord, signed in October, says that at this meeting Palestinian officials will "reaffirm their support for the peace process" as well as a Jan. 22 letter from Arafat to Clinton concerning the charter. However, the Wye agreement, signed in October, does not mention a vote per se.
Sticking to the text, the Clinton administration has backed the Palestinian view and said that while they must eventually see a properly amended charter, a vote need not be taken at the Dec. 14 meeting at the Shawa Center.
It will, at any rate, not be a special session of the PNC, but a "festival," as Palestinian minister Nabil Shaath put it, to include Palestinian legislative council members, ministers, PLO executive committee members, and a hodgepodge of other Palestinian representatives.
Subject to still further discussion is how a real change in the charter would affect Arafat. There are reports that a petition expressing opposition to the charter change will be distributed on the day of Clinton's visit, and rejectionist factions of the PLO, based in neighboring Arab countries, will boycott the vote, as they did in 1996.
But any criticism of Arafat is likely to be dwarfed by the kudos he'll receive for securing the first-ever visit of an American president to autonomous Palestinian territory.