Palestinian National Covenant

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The Palestinian National Covenant or Palestinian National Charter(Arabic: al-Mithaq al-Watani al-Filastini) is the charter or constitution of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Following a 1963 Draft Constitution [1] ( the first version of the Charter[2] ( was written by Ahmad Shukeiri, the first chairman of the PLO, using the slightly different name al-Mithaq al-Kawmee al-Filastini, meant to reflect its origins in Nasser's Pan-Arabism.[3] ( The first official English translation rendered al-Mithaq as "covenant", while later versions have tended to use "charter." (The word changed in 1968 in the Arabic name is translated as "national" in either English translation.)

It was adopted on May 28, 1964 when the PLO was established in Jerusalem along with another document, variously known as the Basic Constitution, Basic Law or Fundamental Law of the PLO, based on the earlier Draft Constitution. The Charter is concerned mainly with the aims of the Palestine Liberation Organization, while the Fundamental Law is more concerned with the structure and procedures of the organization.

The Charter was extensively amended, with seven new articles, in 1968 in the wake of the Six Day War and given its current name. [4] ( Compared to its predecessor, it focused more on the independent national identity and vanguard role of the Palestinian people, led by the PLO, in their "liberation of their homeland" by armed struggle. Article 7 of the earlier document was changed from "Jews of Palestinian origin are considered Palestinians ..." to being restricted only to those "who had resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion." The final article providing that it can only be amended by a vote of a 2/3 majority of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) at a special session convened for that purpose was left unchanged.

The Fundamental Law was also amended, making it more democratic, electing the entire Executive Committee by the PNC, instead of just the Chairman, separating the post of the Speaker of the PNC from the Chairman of the Executive Committee and affirmed the authority of the Executive Committee over the army. Later, (Hirst, 2003) p.427 a promised Charter amendment based on Fatah doctrine "that all Jews [without date restriction]...were to be entitled to Palestinian citizenship" failed due to doctrinal quarrels over the meaning of the precise nature of the proposed Democratic State.


The Charter and the question of Israel's right to exist

Israel had of course always strongly objected to the Charter, which described the establishment of the state of Israel as "entirely illegal" (Art. 19), considers Palestine, with its original Mandate borders, as the indivisible homeland of the Arab Palestinian people (1-2), urges the elimination of Zionism in Palestine and worldwide (Art. 15), and strongly urges the "liberation" of Palestine throughout. Israel dismissed statements of moderation from Arafat [5] ( and the PNC resolution in Algiers, 1988, which had been sufficient to open a dialogue with the USA, as "deceptive propaganda exercises" because (among other objections), "The PLO Covenant has not changed." (Shlaim, p. 466) In May 1989, Arafat, in a statement later criticized by Edward Said as being beyond his authority, and properly a matter for the PNC , told a French TV interviewer "C'est caduc", meaning that it, the Charter, was null and void. (transcript in Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Winter, 1990) , pp. 133-188)

In August 1993, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin insisted on changes to the Charter as part of the Oslo Accords. Following Yasser Arafat's commitment to "submit to the Palestinian National Council for formal approval" the changes to the Charter confirming that "those articles of the Palestinian Covenant which deny Israel's right to exist, and the provisions of the Covenant which are inconsistent with the commitments of this letter are now inoperative and no longer valid" [6] ( in the September 9, 1993 letters of mutual recognition, the PNC met in Gaza and voted on 24 April 1996. The decision was adopted by a vote of: 504 in favor, 54 against, and 14 abstentions. The official English translation used by Israel, the PLO and the USA reads:

"A. The Palestinian National Charter is hereby amended by canceling the articles that are contrary to the letters exchanged the P.L.O. and the Government of Israel 9-10 September 1993.
B. Assigns its legal committee with the task of redrafting the Palestinian National Charter in order to present it to the first session of the Palestinian Central Council."[7] ( [8] ([9] (

The text of the Charter ( at the official website of the Palestinian National Authority appends these amendments to the text of the 1968 charter; the redrafting process referred to in the second amendment still remains uncompleted.

In May 1996, the Labor government under Shimon Peres accepted these changes as fulfilling the Palestinian commitments.[10] (, but when this government was replaced by Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud government, the issue again became controversial, with Israel's demand for greater clarity and precision eventually expressed in the Wye River Memorandum. (See below, Events of 1998)

Events of 1998 and after

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 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.[11] ([12] (

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.

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 14 December 1998 at Gaza:

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.

Like President Clinton, Israel and the Likud party now formally agreed that the objectionable clauses of the charter had been abrogated, in official statements and statements by Prime Minister Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Sharon, Defense Minister Mordechai and Trade and Industry Minister Sharansky.[13] ([14] ( [15] ([16] ( With official Israeli objections to the Charter disappearing henceforward from lists of Palestinian violations of agreements[17] (, the international legal controversy ended.

Despite President Clinton's optimism, the events of 1998 did not entirely 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 and leading Palestinians continue to state that the Charter has not yet been amended.

In 2001 the first draft of a constitution [18] ( authorized by the PLO's Central Committee, calling for a respect for borders, human and civil rights as defined under international law appeared.

Israeli views

Many Israelis and others criticize the 1968 Charter as follows: Articles 15, 19, 20, 22, and 23 of the Covenant explicitly deny Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. Articles 1-6, 8, 11-14, 16-18, 21, 24-26, 28 and 29 implicitly deny Israel's right to exist, insisting 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 Israel. Articles 27 and 30 indirectly call for violence. In all, a total of 30 of the 33 articles in the Covenant effectively deny Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.

Many Israelis feel that although the PNC met in Gaza on 24 April 1996, it did not revoke or change the covenant, but only 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 9 September 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 many Israelis felt:

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 views

Reportedly, an internal PLO document from the Research and Thought Department of Fatah stated that changing the Covenant would have been "suicide for the PLO" and 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.

In January 1998, before the second Gaza meeting, 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".

See also

External links




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