by M. Zimmerman
The PLO Covenant was drafted in 1964 after the Palestine Liberation Organization was founded in Egypt.  That was three years before Israel fought the Six-Day War with Egypt, Jordan and Syria after weeks of Arab military escalation and threats to destroy Israel.  Only then did Israel gain territories so many misguided or poorly intentioned observers claim are the cause of the Arab-Israel conflict.

To understand the PLO's charter document is illuminating as it echoes through past and current Arab articulation of their conflict upon Israel.  Israel's government has cycled through periods of publicizing the Covenant and not.  Foreign Minister Eban in the 1960's was opposed to its circulation and in 1987 Peres ceased distribution upon taking the post.  Western media rarely exposed its detailed contents.  Why was there a question?

Apparently one idea was to de-emphasize PLO written, and verbal, intentions, to retain optimism.  Some observers are uncomforta-ble discussing the conflict as rooted in political extremism or Islamic tenets because the situation then seems beyond control.  If the conflict is presented in such hostile terms, what constructive response can be formulated?  Also, the Covenant makes the Arab cause look bad.  Had Covenant contents been well understood in Israel and America, would  the "land for peace" formula been seen as reasonable?

Consider excerpts from the Covenant, readopted in 1977 by the Palestinian National Council:

Article 1:  "Palestine... is an indivisible part of the Arab homeland, and the Palestinian people are an integral part of the Arab nation."

It is unclear whether Arab Palestinians have regarded themselves more as part of a pan-Arab nation, as a separate Palestinian nation, as Jordanians or Syrians.  Clearly most are culturally indistinguishable from Arabs in nearby states.

This crucial article denies the independent existance of the Jewish people.  Only Jews who lived in Palestine before an ambiguous date are Palestinians and have full rights.  In 1975, Yasir Arafat defined the year as 1881!  If similar criteria were applied to the Arabs, considering their subsequent influx, the population of the land would be sparse indeed!

Article 9:  "Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine.  Thus it is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase..."

The PLO Covenant espouses militarism.  Negotiated peace or compromise with Israel is precluded, political settlement rejected.  This has become clear to most since Prime Minister Barak made his far-reaching conciliatory political offer in 2000 and without even a counter-offer Arafat initiated the Oslo War. 

Article 15:  "The Liberation of Palestine; from an Arab viewpoint, is a national duty and it attempts to repel Zionist and imperialist aggression against the Arab homeland, and aims at the elimination of Zionism from Palestine..."

The PLO's aim is clear:  "elimination" here means politicide (destruction of Israel) and can mean genocide.  Recall the Covenant
was drafted in 1964 before Israel gained the "West Bank."  Clearly, the call for Israel's withdrawal from territories gained in 1967
is not the limit of PLO ambition.  Also, "liberation of Palestine" includes Jordan:  recall its 1970 civil war and Black September becoming name of a vicious PLO terrorist faction that vented frustration with Hashemites upon Israel!

Article 20:  "Claims of a historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history..."

The statement insults all educated people, and denies Christian and Jewish history.  Why did the PLO institutionalize such false-hood?  Perhaps it provides ideological underpinning to legitimize Arab violence against Jews, since at face value Article 20 implies Jews did and do not belong in the country.  The conclusion then, for people romanticizing violence, even suicide bombings, may
be that any means is legitimate to remove this enemy.  Ideology often sets a tone for behavior.  Certainly this is the Arab case.

Article 33:  "This Charter shall not be amended save by (vote of) a majority of two-thirds of the total membership of the National Congress of the Palestine Liberation Organization at a special session convened for that purpose."

PLO moderation would be reflected in an amended Covenant, alternative documentation of moderate beliefs and intentions, and an intensive education campaign of new perspectives.  (Japan and Germany were forced to teach their peoples new ideology following 1945 defeat and occupation.  They did not do so freely, but initially while coerced under military occupation.  Democracy took hold.)

During the Olso negotiations, Israel repeatedly negotiated for the PLO to amend its Covenant as a confidence building measure.  At the start of 9/9/93, Arafat wrote a letter to Prime Minister Rabin to that effect.  Finally, under heavy pressure from Israel and the USA, Arafat convened the PNC.  On 4/24/96 it voted (504 to 54) to set up a committee to redraft the Covenant to eliminate clauses denying Israel's right to exist.

Many observers considered Arafat and the PNC actions regarding the Covenant as illusory.  President Clinton and  Minister Peres, with political capital invested in the Oslo track, proclaimed the vote.  Peres described it as the greatest event in the Middle East of the past century.  Apparently overshadowing Israel's return!

President Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America wrote in May 1996 about how Arab media portrayed the Covenant issue. 
"The primary danger that the Covenant poses is that it legitimizes hatred of Israel and de-legitimizes Israel's right to exist.  Changing the Covenant is important in order to send a message to the Arab people that anti-Israel violence is immoral and must cease," he explained.

Klein related that the PLO news agency did not report the Covenant was changed.  He quoted a PLO leader as saying the PNC  did not formally change the Covenant but empowered a legal committee to deal with the issue, with two articles in mind.  (Most of the 33 articles call for Israel's destruction or urge violence.)  Jerusalem Arab newspapers after the PNC action explained the Covenant "will be amended"," using future tense.  While PNC spokesman Abu Zaida soon claimed the Covenant was cancelled when asked which document replaced it, he replied,
"The Algiers declaration," a 1988 PNC resolution that did not recognize Israel's right to exist.  Klein concluded "the PLO have once again made a vague promise to change some unspecified part of the Covenant at some unspecified future date."

A later Israel foreign ministry report (10/22/98) supported the ZOA.  "The PNC resolution... ambiguous... three... versions... published in.... newspapers....Uncertainty... coupled with....lack of....specific articles... actually... nullified... Legal Committee mentioned... neither met nor ... duly constituted can only lead to .... conclusion that at best the Palestinians... embarked upon a process of amending the Covenant... yet to be completed."  Subsequently, "Arafat sent letters to ... Clinton... to 'put to rest' concerns and setting out... articles supposedly canceled or amended.  No personal statement by Arafat regarding the articles to be amended by the resolution has any legal force." 

Clearly, recent Palestinian Arab violence buried optimistic illusions.  After the 1996 PLO Covenant's alleged amending, no Arab education program aroused moderate attitudes.  Few Arab leaders and media inspire moderation regarding Israel.  Virtually all call for, minimally, expulsion of Jews from the area including Judea -- from where Jews derive their name.  This, while many Arabs live within Israel, leads one to reflect on the general indifference to the political asymmetry!

Some Arab political and religious leaders explicitly call for Israel's destruction, or use the euphemism "return of all Arab refugees," the return to swamp Israel.  Some Arab leaders recently claimed Jews never built a Temple on the mount in Jerusalem!

The PLO Covenant calls for military methods against the Jews as a strategy and denies their historical connection with Palestine.  Christians as well as Jews should appreciate the seriousness of this Arab chutzpah and lack of connection with historic reality.
M. Zimmerman, an American businessman, also writes about Jewish history and Middle East issues.
PLO Covenant text is from Y. Harkabi, Palestinians and Israel; Jerusalem:
Keter Publishing, 1974, citing Political Documents of Armed Palestinian Resistance Movement, Beirut:  PLO Research Center, 1969.
:   P.O. Box 35661 - Houston, Texas  77235-5661
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