`In Algiers tonight, the Palestine National Council voted to reject terrorism, declare an independent Palestinian state, and for the first time, to recognize Israel's right to exist.'--ABC World News Tonight, Nov. 14, 1988.
`If you read the [PNC's] political statement carefuly, you will find that what some term recognition of the Security Council's resolutions and consequently recognition of the Zionist entity is untrue.'--PNC Speaker Abd al-Hamid al-Sa'ih, January 13, 1989.
One day after his December 13, 1988 address to the UN General Assembly, PLO leader Yasir Arafat issued a statement at a news conference in Geneva which the U.S. Administration immediately and formally construed as signifying PLO acceptance of Resolutions 242 and 338, recognition of Israel's right to exist, and renunciation of terrorism. Since those had long been the U.S. conditions for a dialogue with the PLO. President Reagan authorized the State Department to enter into such dialogue forthwith.
PLO spokesmen have insisted that Arafat's pledges in Geneva are no more than an accurate interpretation of the resolutions adopted by the Palestine National Council--the PLO's `parliament-in-exile'--in Algiers on November 15. And, indeed, in most cases, an official clarification by a person authorized to represent his organization's views would constitute a valid interpretation of a document previously adopted by that body. But in this case, the seeming disparity between Arafat's statement in Geneva and the text of the Algiers resolutions is so jarring as to warrant further examination.
We recognize that the existential political perception of an event or document (which indeed may be controlling in assessing its political impact) is different from the strict or juridical meaning of its text. But while the two may be separate, they cannot and should not be entirely divorced. In this case, the need for close
analysis of the Algiers text is given further impetus by Arafat's continuing and strenuous efforts to ensure that his remarks are understood as conforming closely to the original Algiers resolutions. Thus, on the key issue of PLO renunciation of terrorism--one of the three basic American conditions for a dialogue--he said in an interview with Vienna Television Service on December 19, 1988: `I did not mean renounce. Our [PNC] resolution condemned all forms of terrorism--individual terrorism and state terrorism. Actually, I only repeated what our Palestine National Council had accepted.'
Moreover, Arafat's interpretation has been openly challenged by at least one faction that voted to approve the Algiers resolutions. On December 25, Nayef Hawatmeh's Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine--the second most important PLO faction to sign on to the Algiers `Political Statement' after Arafat's own Fatah--issued a joint communique with George Habash's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine which had voted against that statement. The two factions declared that Arafat's statements in Geneva `contradicted the decisions approved by the PNC' and that they `do not commit the PLO to anything and do not represent official policy.'
Given these problems, a detailed examination of the Algiers resolutions would seem appropriate and relevant. It is to be assumed that Arafat's Geneva statement represents his organization's views. At the same time it is unmistakably clear the PNC's decisions are binding on all PLO factions. It is in the tensions and contradictions between these two factors that the problems arise. We offer the following analysis of the PNC resolutions in the hope that it will help locate the PLO's current posture and intentions.
On November 12-15, 1988, after several postponements, the PNC--the PLO's `parliament-in-exile'--held its 19th session in Algiers. On November 15, the PNC adopted two documents: First, a `Declaration of Independence,' written by the Palestinian poet and member of the PLO's Executive Committee Mahmud Darwish and read by Arafat, was approved by acclamation; and second, a `Political Statement,' which discusses major political issues such as the intifada, the international conference, Resolutions 242 and 338, terrorism, relations with the superpowers, and more, was approved by a vote of 253 to 46 with 10 abstentions.
In addition to Arafat's own Fatah group and the independents, the PNC members of the following PLO factions voted in favor of the resolutions: DFLP; Arab Liberation Front (ALF); Palestine Liberation Front (PLF); and Palestine Communist Party (PCP). The negative votes were cast by supporters of George Habash's PFLP--but Habash pledged to abide by the majority's decision; Popular Struggle Front (PSF) also voted against the resolutions. The Syrian-backed factions PFLP-General Command, Saiqa, and Abu Musa's rebel Fatah group, as well as Abu Nidal's group, boycotted the session (as they had done at the PNC's 18th session).
Not since its opening session in Jerusalem in 1964 has a PNC meeting generated as high expectations and hopes as has its latest session in Algiers. Following King Hussein's announcement on July 31 of his intention to sever Jordan's legal and administrative ties with the West Bank, the PLO came under intense pressure to fill the perceived vacuum created by Jordan's disengagement from the area. The session in Algiers was built up as the PLO's answer to Hussein's move. It was specifically designed to induce the United States--widely regarded in the Middle East as the sole world power capable of `delivering' an Israeli withdrawal from the territories--to accept the PLO as a legitimate negotiating partner and thus achieve a momentous strategic breakthrough for the Palestinian organization. To accomplish that goal, the PNC was expected to meet the long-established, frequently reiterated, and well-known American conditions for lifting the ban on negotiations with the PLO: recognition of Israel's right to exist; acceptance of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338; and renunciation of terrorism. Supporters of the PLO have maintained that the PNC indeed met all these conditions: Arafat himself declared at the end of the PNC session: `The ball is in the American court.' To determine whether--in light of the Algiers resolutions and their interpretation by Arafat in Stockholm and Geneva and in subsequent pronouncements by PLO leaders--this is indeed the case, our report addresses the following questions:
Did the PNC recognize Israel's right to exist?
Did it accept Resolutions 242 and 338?
Did it renounce terrorism?
What position did the PNC take vis-a-vis the intifada?
What is the nature of the Palestinian state declared by the PNC in Algiers?
What stance did the PNC adopt toward the superpowers?
To facilitate the examination of the PNC's resolutions which form the basis for answering these questions, extensive summaries of their lenghty texts (including key excerpts) are provided in Appendices 1 and2.
The most daunting challenge facing the PNC in Algiers was to reverse the PLO's rejectionist position as enshrined in its Palestine National Covenant of 1968 by recognizing Israel's right to exist. It could do so explicitly or implicitly, directly or indirectly, with or without qualifications, conditionally or unconditionally; but everyone concerned was well aware that the closer the PNC resolutions came to explicit, direct, unqualified, and unconditional recognition of Israel, the more likely they were to engender U.S. legitimation of the PLO. The ways in which the PNC chose to deal with this challenge will be examined below.
Explicit Recognition: Supporters of the PLO and even some in the Western media have stated flatly: `The PNC has recognized Israel's right to exist.' At a press conference in Stockholm on December 7, following two days of discussions with five American Jews, Arafat himself claimed that the PNC had accepted the existence of Israel as a state in the region. And at his statement to the press in Geneva on December 14, he declared: `In my speech also yesterday [at the General Assembly], it was clear that we [the PNC] mean . . . the right of all parties concerned in the Middle East conflict to exist in peace and security . . . including the state of Palestine, Israel, and other neighbors . . . `But no matter how long and how carefully one studies the lengthy, dense, and complex texts of the PNC's `Declaration of Independence' and `Political Statement,' the simple phrase `The PNC recognizes Israel's right to exist'--or even the less demanding formulation `The PNC accepts Israel's existence'--is nowhere to be found.
Resolutions 242 and 338: Acceptance of Security Council Resolutions 242 of November 22, 1967, and 338 of October 22, 1973, is the second U.S. condition and has often been equated with recognition of Israel's right to exist. Resolution 242 states (Article 1(ii)): . . . `respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their [sic] right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.' The less essential Resolution 338 calls for the implementation of Resolution 242 (Article 2) and for negotiations between the parties concerned aimed at establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East (Article 3).
Since Israel is not mentioned specifically in 242 as one of the states whose right to live in peace is upheld, acceptance of that resolution only implies recognition of Israel. And as Israel's enemies have always refused to consider Israel a legitimate state, preferring to describe it as a `Zionist entity,' a `colonialist-racist outpost,' etc., it is entirely consistent with their position to regard recognition of all `states' in the area as not even implying recognition of Israel. For example, the present regime in Syria--Israel's most dangerous and implacable foe--in 1974 accepted Resolution 338 (which entails acceptance of 242) while adhering to this day to its profound rejection of Israel's right to exist.
Nonetheless, if the PNC had accepted 242/338 explicitly, directly, and without qualifications or conditions, it would have taken an important step forward by endorsing the basic framework underlying all peace negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbors since 1967. It failed, however, to do so.
No mention is made of 242/338 in the PNC's `Declaration of Independence.' Its `Political Statement' makes one reference to these resolutions in the following paragraph:
`The Palestine National Council affirms:
`1. The necessity of holding an effective international conference concerning the Middle East issue and its essence, the Palestinian cause, under the auspices of the United Nations and with the participation of the parmanent member states of the United Nations Security Council and all parties to the struggle in the region, including the Palestine Liberation Organization, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, on an equal footing, and by considering that the international conference will be held on the basis of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and the assurance of the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people, and first and foremost, their right to self-determination in application of the principles and provisions of the United Nations Charter concerning the right of peoples to self-determination and the inadmissibility of seizing the lands of others by force or military invasion, and in accordance with the resolutions of the United Nations regarding the Palestinian cause' [italics added].