PLO COVENANT & PALESTINE OPTIONS
By M. Zimmerman
The PLO Covenant was first drafted in 1964 immediately following the founding of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Egypt. That was three years before Israel fought the Six-Day War, after weeks of Arab military escalation accompanied by threats to drive Israel into the sea.
Three stunning, overlapping military campaigns against Egypt, Jordan and Syria ensued. All were over in less than a week of fighting. Only then, in 1967, did Israel gain the territories that so many misguided or poorly intentioned observers claim are the very cause of the Arab-Israel conflict.
To understand the PLO Covenant is illuminating because of its constant echoes in past and current Arab articulation of their conflict with Israel. The Israel Government has cycled through periods of publicizing the PLO Covenant and not doing so. Foreign Minister Abba Eban in the 1960s was opposed to circulating it and in 1987 Shimon Peres ceased distributing the Covenant upon becoming Foreign Minister. Western media rarely have exposed the detailed contents of the document. Why was there a question?
Apparently one idea was to stop emphasizing PLO written intentions, in order to be more optimistic. Some observers have been uncomfortable discussing the conflict as rooted in political extremism or Islamic tenets because the situation then seems so out of hand. If the conflict is presented in such extreme terms, what constructive response can Israel or the democracies formulate? Also, the Covenant makes the Arab cause against Israel look bad. Had the contents of the PLO Covenant been well understood in Israel and the West, would the "land for peace" formula have been seen as reasonable?
Yet after the Oslo War commenced in early autumn 2000 and with the outrage of 9/11 the following year, both reflecting the clear failure of conciliatory policies, the West and Israel have begun to cope with reality. They may be far more successful in managing the overlapping conflicts as they move from wishful assessments to thinking clearly and with the ruthlessness required for serious warfare and authentic stability.
Consider these excerpts from the Covenant, as readopted in 1977 by the Palestinian National Council:
Article 1: "Palestine is the homeland of the Arab Palestinian people; it is an indivisible part of the Arab homeland, and the Palestinian people are an integral part of the Arab nation."
It is unclear whether Arabs of Palestine regard themselves more as part of a pan-Arab nation, as a separate Palestinian nation, or for that matter as Jordanians or Syrians. Clearly most are culturally indistinguishable from Arabs in surrounding states.
Article 2: "Palestine, with its boundaries it had during the British Mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit."
During the Mandate, Palestine included what is now Israel and Jordan. Since 1946, with Transjordan's independence, there already has been an Arab state in Palestine, and that is the Kingdom of Jordan, formerly Transjordan.
Given the present flux in the Middle East, with America considering anew its policies and relationships with Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia, it seems apt to brainstorm out of the conventional box regarding Israel, Palestine and the Arabs. While there has been incessant talk of partitioning the area controlled by Israel, Cisjordan, for the sake of Arabs of Palestine, other options not discussed are scenarios dealing with the larger section of Palestine, i.e., Transjordan.
Jordan is ruled by the Hashemite regime, a monarchy. The Hashemites have been among few moderate Arab governments usually with a good relationship with Great Britain and the United States, sometimes with Israel. The fact that the land they rule is part of Palestine, however, has potential implications seldom discussed. Here are a few options deriving from that fact.
One: a clearly Palestinian Arab regime might replace the present Hashemite-led Kingdom. Two: Jordan, really Transjordan and eastern Palestine geographically, might be partitioned between those Arabs who consider themselves Palestinian and those closely allied with the Hashemites. Three: Jordan may reassert its one-time connection with parts of Cisjordan, including Jerusalem neighborhoods. Four: Hashemites might return to roots in Arabia, to dwell there or rule part of that land.
Laying out these options is not to suggest one or another at this stage. They are latent possibilities, based on history, geography and population. They might serve as background for political discussions about the region. And we might realize that some scenarios, options, unrealistic at one period of history may become feasible, even sensible, at another as circumstances change.
In recent years, the only option commonly discussed regarding Palestinian Arab political expression is partition of the area now controlled by Israel, i.e., Cisjordan, western Palestine, western Eretz Israel, along with the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Judea (from where they gained their name), Samaria (the geographic center of gravity of Cisjordan), and Gaza.
It is not widely appreciated that Arabs calling themselves Palestinians are a majority in that part of Palestine across the Jordan River in Transjordan. And after all, not all minorities achieve statehood. Consider the Maronite Christians in Lebanon, the Druses in Syria, the Kurds in Iraq, the Copts in Egypt. Other concentrated minorities have brethren with statehood elsewhere, witness the French of Canada. The present Arab state of mostly Palestinians, i.e., Jordan, is not across an ocean, but rather a narrow river.
A decline of sympathy for an additional Arab state in the Cisjordan portion of Palestine, where Arabs are a minority, may be developing in America and Israel. English history Paul Johnson in a recent Wall Street Journal article put forth an option new to the political conversation. He recalled that Western colonialism spread to parts of the world two centuries ago in order to eliminate piracy and dominate piracy-supporting regimes, and he compared piracy with current terrorism. The U.S. Marine hymn recalls "the shores of Tripoli," scene of American anti-piracy action. Johnson suggests that some peoples may be too dangerous when fully independent, and recalls League of Nations trusteeships and mandates--interim governing frameworksas models for consideration.
The Palestine Authority has proven itself a violent, dangerous, untrustworthy and corrupt organization that teaches children to romanticize suicide bombing of civilians. And the fact remains that the Kingdom of Jordan is an exclusively Arab state in the former Palestine Mandate, with a minority governing elite who came from Arabia, not Palestine. Hashemite roots are in what is now Saudi Arabia, and Arabs who usually call themselves Palestinians far outnumber Hashemites and Bedouin in Jordan.
Most Arabs of Palestine just a few decades ago defined themselves as Arabs of southern Syria, and for that matter, given the small population noticed by western travelers to the Holy Land a century ago (for example, see An Innocent Abroad by Mark Twain), the evidence is that a significant portion of today's Arabs in Palestine descend from recent migrants arriving from other Moslem countries.
Ariel Sharon, when Defense Minister in the second Begin government, explained to a group of journalists in Jerusalem, myself included, that in 1970, when civil war raged between the PLO and the Jordan government, some members of Israel's government proposed supporting the PLO, and not, as expected and it turned out, the Jordan Government. Most of the journalists were shocked. Why would this alleged hawk have supported the PLO as compared to the relatively moderate Hashemite regime?
Sharon explained simply that should Palestinian Arabs gain statehood in eastern Palestine, although they may be more hostile to Israel than the existing regime, a political outlet for all Palestinian Arabs would be obviously available and the pressure to partition Israel would be reduced.
It has been clear to many Israelis and is becoming clearer for the rest that Cisjordan is too small for two hostile peoples to share peacefully. Israel even with the disputed territories is only forty miles wide in its center, and in square miles is about the size of New Jersey. With Arabs who define themselves as Palestinians rather than Hashemites clearly ruling Transjordan, eastern Palestine, the pressure would decrease precipitously for Israel to carve itself up in dangerous fashion, reducing its strategic depth to absurdity in the unstable and well-armed Middle East, in orderly to satisfy Palestinian Arab political aspirations.
Article 6: "The Jews who had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion will be considered Palestinians."
This crucial article denies the independent existence 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 the same criteria were applied to the Arabs, considering their subsequent influx, the population of the land would be very 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, a political settlement rejected. Consider how clear this has become since August 2000 when Prime Minister Barak made a far-reaching, ultra-conciliatory political offer, and without even making 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 the Zionist and imperialist aggression against the Arab homeland, and aims at the elimination of Zionism from Palestine..."
The PLO's aim to destroy Israel is clear. "Elimination" at least means politicide (destruction of a state) and can mean genocide. Recall that the Covenant was drafted in 1964 before Israel gained control of the "West Bank." Clearly, the call for Israel's withdrawal from the territories gained in 1967 is not the limit of PLO ambition. Also, "liberation of Palestine" includes Jordan. Recall the civil war there in late summer 1970. Afterward, Black September became name of a vicious PLO terrorist faction that took out its frustration with the Hashemite regime upon whom else but Israel!
Article 20: "...Claims of a historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history..."
The statement insults every educated person, and denies Christian as well as Jewish history. Why did the PLO institutionalize such a falsehood? One explanation that comes to mind is that it provides an ideological underpinning to legitimize Arab violence against Jews, since, if taken at face value, the PLO Covenant implies that Jews did and do not belong in the disputed country. The clear conclusion, particularly for a people romanticizing violence and even suicide bombings, may be then that any means is legitimate to remove them. Ideology usually sets the tone for behavior. Certainly this has been the case of Arabs towards Israel.
PLO moderation would be reflected in an amended Covenant, alternative documentation of moderate beliefs and intentions, and an intensive education campaign of the new perspectives for Arab audiences.
Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany were forced to teach their peoples new ideology, that of democracy, following their defeat and occupation in 1945. They did not do so voluntarily, but initially at least while coerced under military occupation. And it took hold.
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 (taken) at a special session convened for that purpose."
During the Oslo negotiations, Israel repeatedly pressed the PLO to amend its Covenant as a confidence building measure. At the start, on September 9, 1993, Arafat wrote a letter of intent to Prime Minister Rabin to that effect, but took no further action. Finally, under heavy pressure from Israel and the United States, Arafat convened the Palestine National Congress and on April 24, 1996, it voted to set up a committee to redraft the Covenant to eliminate those clauses denying Israel's right to exist. The vote was 504 to 54, with 14 abstentions. However, the Covenant has yet to be redrafted.
Many analysts and observers considered Arafat's letter and actions regarding the Covenant as sleigh of hand, illusory, while President Clinton and Minister Peres, who each invested much political capital in the Oslo track, proclaimed, touted, them as profound.
The Zionist Organization of America's President Morton Klein provided background in May 1996 on how the Covenant issue was portrayed by Arab media and the PLO. "After all, the primary danger that the Covenant poses is that it legitimizes hatred of Israel and de-legitimizes Israel's right to exist," he wrote. "Changing the Covenant is important in order to send a message to the Arab people that anti-Israel violence is immoral and must cease."
Klein explained that the official PLO news agency did not report that the Covenant was actually 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, and that just two articles were in mind. (A majority of the Covenant's 33 articles call for Israel's destruction or urge violence.) Jerusalem Arab newspapers from the day after the PNC action explained the Covenant "will be amended," using future tense.
While PNC spokesman Abu Zaida claimed the Covenant was cancelled, when asked which document serves in its place, he was quoted replying "The Algiers declaration," a 1988 PNC resolution in Algiers, which 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 Background Paper dated October 22, 1998, published by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, regarding the PNC 1996 meeting concluded: "The resolution... can at best be described as ambiguous. The resolution was not included in the official records of the meeting and at least three... versions were published in various newspapers and news agencies... Uncertainty surrounding the PNC resolution, coupled with the lack of any specific articles which have actually been cancelled or nullified, along with the fact that the 'Legal Committee' mentioned in the resolution has neither met nor even been duly constituted can only lead to the conclusion that at best the Palestinians have embarked upon a process of amending the Covenant which has yet to be completed...
"In January 1998, Chairman Arafat sent letters to President Clinton... purporting to 'put to rest' concerns and setting out... articles supposedly canceled or amended by the decision. It must be stated, however, that no personal statement by Arafat regarding the articles to be amended by the resolution has any legal force."
Clearly, the past year's Palestinian Arab violence buried optimistic illusions. Even a few years back, after the alleged amending of the PLO Covenant, no Palestinian education program ensued to lead to or illuminate any moderate Arab attitudes. Whether or not the Covenant was formally renounced or amended, Palestinian and regional Arab and Islamic leaders and media do not reflect the sought for moderation, and still reflect denial of Israel to any of Palestine. Virtually all call for expulsion of all Jews from the "West Bank," the area that includes Judea--the land from where Jews derive their very name as a people! And this is while Arabs in hundreds of thousands live within the State of Israel. Such indifference to the asymmetry!
Some Arab political and religious leaders explicitly call for Israel's destruction, or use the euphemism "return of all Arab refugees." (The return would swamp Israel.) Some Arab leaders recently claimed that Jews never built a Temple on the mount in Jerusalem!
The essence of the PLO Covenant's Article 20 is starkly illuminating. Many Arab political and opinion leaders claim that Jews have no historical connection with Palestine. Christians as well as Jews should appreciate the seriousness of this Arab chutzpah and lack of connection with historic reality.
The Middle East is entering a period of political flux with accompanying opportunities, such that it has not witnessed since the periods just after The Great War and World War II. The Sadaam Hussein regime in Iraq may go, the Baath regime in Syria is weakening. Both terror-sponsoring states may become casualties of United States outrage at Arab and Islamic terrorism, after 9/11 so obviously dangerous to Americans.
The PLO and P.A. are on the wan, probably soon to be crushed by Israel. It is not clear that Hamas will survive as an active organization in Cisjordan. President Bush's recent action to dry up Hamas funding from front groups in America is an important ideological was well as practical step. The more extreme Arab elements in Cisjordan may be neutralized or have to seek expression elsewhere. Israel cannot help but study American role modeling in Afghanistan of how to destroy a terror-sponsoring regime and terrorist groups.
Should Iraq and Syria become ruled by more moderate regimes, or for that matter break up, the concern in Israel and for that matter in America over a potentially more questionable Palestinian regime in Jordan as compared to the moderate Hashemite government may be lessened. Such a regime might draw the migration of dissatisfied Arabs from Cisjordan to Transjordan, western Palestine to eastern Palestine, leaving the more moderate to work out rapprochement with Israel. Also, the United States is clearly reevaluating its traditional relationship with the Saudi regime in Arabia, recently so disappointing to American interests.
Concerned parties may soon, reasonably, consider afresh the political evolution of eastern Palestine.
M. Zimmerman worked several years in Israel as a political analyst. Now a businessman in America, he also writes about Israel history and Middle East issues.
Note: the translated text from the PLO Covenant is from Y. Harkabi, Palestinians and Israel, Jerusalem: Keter Publishing, 1974, which cites Leila S. Kadi (ed.), Basic Political Documents of the Armed Palestinian Resistance Movement, PLO Organization Research Center, Beirut, December 1969, pp. 137-141.