PLO Charter Clauses To Be Revoked
Dec. 10, 1998
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ Keeping a promise to Israel and the United States, a group of senior Palestinians led by Yasser Arafat voted overwhelmingly today to revoke clauses of the PLO charter calling for Israel's destruction.
The vote was an interim step ahead of Monday's session of the Palestine National Council, which is to reaffirm the move in the presence of President Clinton.
The decision was taken by the Palestinian Central Council, a 124-member leadership body. In the vote, the 105 members present were asked whether they approved an Arafat letter to Clinton in which the PLO charter clauses that offend Israel are declared revoked.
Of those present, 81 voted for, seven voted against and seven abstained, according to Salim Zanoun, the chairman of the Palestine National Council.
This paved the way for Monday's gathering of the larger PNC, that is to be attended by Clinton.
Under the Wye accord, the PNC and delegates of other Palestinian groups are to reaffirm the Arafat letter on Monday, thus completing the process of revoking the charter.
Tayeb Abdel Rahim, secretary general of the Palestinian Authority, said the PLO charter has been an anachronism for years.
The charter clauses calling for Israel's destruction ``have not been valid since the day we signed'' the first peace agreement with Israel in 1993.
In April 1996, the PNC held a vote on revoking the charter clauses. Israel's dovish government at the time accepted the outcome as satisfactory.
However, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to power a month later, he said the Palestinians had not completed their task and demanded that the PNC be called together again.
Even though the Palestinians have agreed to the demand, the two sides disagree over procedure for Monday's session.
Netanyahu said he will not settle for anything less than a vote by a show of hands, while the Palestinians say the Wye agreement only requires approval by acclamation.
In announcing today's decision, Zanoun said the matter would not come to a vote before the PNC. Instead, the PNC session would convene only to affirm the speeches by Clinton and Arafat.
The meeting ``will be only to listen to President Clinton's speech and President Arafat ... there will be no vote,'' Zanoun said. It was not clear how the affirmation would manifest itself.
Netanyahu said today that he would stick to his position even if Clinton declares the PNC session a success without a vote. ``It is Israel which determines issues connected with its future,'' Netanyahu told Israel radio.
Arafat said the procedure was an internal Palestinian matter. ``It's not their (the Israelis') business,'' he said.
White House spokesman David Leavy said the Clinton administration has not seen details of what was voted on.
``But if it was a reaffirmation of the letter Chairman Arafat sent to President Clinton, it would be an important and welcomed step toward implementing the Wye accords,'' Leavy said in Washington.
It is unlikely Clinton would side with Israel in such a dispute because it would mean that the main purpose of his visit, to usher in the next stage of the Wye agreement, has failed.
Immediately after the PNC session, 5 percent of the West Bank is to be transferred from Israeli control to joint jurisdiction.
Netanyahu said last week he was freezing the pullback over what he claimed were systematic Palestinian violations of the peace accord. He said today that he would not change his decision unless the PNC took a vote and Arafat publicly dropped plans to unilaterally declare a state in May.
Netanyahu also said he has ordered the Israeli army to deal with Palestinian riots with a ``firm hand.''
The West Bank has been swept by stone-throwing protests in recent days, and thousands of Palestinians marched today in the funeral procession of a 17-year-old stone mason, Jihad Iyad, who was killed by Israeli army gunfire a day earlier.
In heavy rain, several dozen Palestinians broke away from the procession and threw stones at Israeli soldiers who fired tear gas, but the confrontation ended after half an hour.
The recent violence raised concern that Clinton's visit to the region is fomenting unrest rather than calming the tense situation.
Israeli hard-liners, including Cabinet ministers, have said Clinton's visit is conferring statehood status on the Palestinian areas.
Today, signs reading ``Clinton go home'' were strung along the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway and on walls in Jerusalem. Posters showing a photo montage of Clinton wearing a checkered headdress, a symbol of Palestinian nationalism, were plastered on some walls.