Once the Declaration of Principles (DOP) had been signed and the celebrating in Washington was over, the two sides returned to the negotiating table. The subsequent negotiations lead to three additional agreements on implementation of the DOP. This discussion focuses on the last of these agreements, the Interim Agreement (IA) signed on September 28, 1995, as it is the one in force today.
The agreement’s primary objective was to expand Palestinian self-rule through the election of a Council that would be given authority over a wider range of territory and powers. The agreement also reaffirms some of the basic principles of the Oslo process: an interim period not to last more than five years, the commitment that permanent status negotiations include discussion of the hard issues (most importantly Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements and borders), and that the IA not prejudice the final agreement.
That the inclusion of refugees and Jerusalem on the list of matters to be dealt with in the permanent status negotiations was regarded as a concession to the Palestinians shows that the Israelis were not thinking about achieving a full peace. It is clear that an agreement that does not address the Palestinian claim to Jerusalem and to a right of return for the refugees cannot purport to be a final settlement of the war between the Palestinians and Israel. [For further discussion of the significance of the refugee issue to achieving a full peace, see Shlomo Gazit, “The Palestinian Refugee Problem,” Final Status Issues: Israel- Palestinians, JCSS, (Israel: Tel Aviv University, 1994).] Therefore, if Israel is pursuing a full peace, it needs to make sure permanent status talks includes these issues.
One of the basic premises of all of the agreements is that the transfer of jurisdiction to the Palestinians, territorial or functional, does not relinquish Israel’s position as the source of authority in the region. Under the agreement Israel does not dissolve its military government, only its civil administration. In fact, the military government is the source of authority for the Palestinian Council and continues to retain authority for all residual powers. The forty areas of responsibility in civil affairs transferred to the PA are explicitly cited in the IA, with the transfer of any additional powers being subject to further agreement between the two parties. Because the status of the territories is to remain unchanged throughout the interim period, any effort by either side unilaterally to change the status is in violation of the agreement. [This argument has been made by Joel Singer, the former legal advisor of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in defense of the agreements. See “The West Bank and Gaza Strip: Phase Two,” Justice 7 (December 1995), pp.7-9; idem., “The Declaration of Principles on Interim Self Government Arrangements¾Some Legal Aspects,” Justice 1 (Winter 1994).] This means that Israel cannot annex territory, or that the Palestinians cannot declare statehood. However, it certainly does not mean that Israel cannot build in existing settlements, or expand existing settlements into the areas that had been specified for their development prior to the agreement.
The major issues addressed in the IA are (a) the structure, election and powers of the Palestinian Council; (b) the legal affairs by which the interim period will be conducted; (c) the nature and form of cooperation between the two sides; and (d) most importantly, the extent of Israeli redeployment and the details of each side’s security responsibilities.
In order to give the agreement stronger security credibility and keep control over the negotiations in his own hands, Rabin directed that the negotiations be carried out by IDF officers under his supervision as Minister of Defense. Having repeatedly criticized the ambiguity of the DOP and the dissension between the two sides over to what they had actually agreed, [For Rabin’s doubts and his emphasis on detail in the subsequent negotiations, as well as his criticism of some of the DOP’s concessions, see Dore Gold, “Second Thoughts¾and Counting,” Jerusalem Post (17 December 1993).] Rabin made sure that negotiations over the IA, and eventually the agreement itself, be explicit in the discussion of rules and technical issues. Although many of these provisions are loaded with symbolic implications, making them contentious and difficult to negotiate, in literal or physical terms they have minimal implications for the process as a whole or the nature of the final agreement. The heart of the IA are the provisions addressing security and land, that is: How do the commitments of the IA limit Israel’s capabilities to act against terror? And who will control what territory at the end of the interim period?
Prior to any of the commitments undertaken in the IA is the cessation of hostilities between the PLO and Israel agreed to in the DOP. In his letter to Yitzhak Rabin of September 9, 1993, Arafat on behalf of the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and renounced the use of violence to achieve its political objectives. In the DOP he only bound all factions of the PLO to this commitment, but in the IA he bound all Palestinians in the territories. Thus, the security provisions must be seen in light of the threat that Arafat will violate his commitment.
The IA maintains Israel’s responsibility for “overall security” and its right to take all action needed to meet this responsibility. With respect to external security, Israel has free reign and full control. It is independently responsible for its air and sea corridors as well as for protecting itself along the Jordanian and Egyptian borders. However, regarding internal security, namely the protection of Israelis from Terrorism on both sides of the Green Line, the IA constructs a cooperative security system and divides Judea and Samaria into three areas. Within each area Israel retains a different level of jurisdiction and independence to act against security threats.
The PA has full control over Area A, or 3% of the territory and 31% of the population, comprised of the West Bank’s seven Arab cities minus the area inhabited and used by the Jewish residents of Hebron. The simple fact of redeployment from the area greatly limits Israel’s ability to gain critical information and access to collaborators as well as its ability to act independently against terror cells in preventative strikes. These Israeli concessions are tempered by the overriding responsibility clause which provides Israel with the right to enter cities if the PA proves totally ineffective in the fight against terrorist organizations. However, as conceded by Israeli Chief of Staff Shahak before the signing of the IA, taking initiative based on this principle would not be easy in the face of the political cost. [Alon Pinkas, “The Real Test of Redeployment is Security,” Jerusalem Post (13 October 1995).] However, it is quite possible that Israeli anti-terror actions in areas where the PA is supposed to have taken responsibility for internal security will become part of the negotiating process, like PA violations of the IA and terror actions against Israel. When Israel takes such actions it will be doing two things simultaneously: using self defense to protect itself from terror attacks, and encouraging the Palestinians to do the job themselves so that they do not have to endure Israeli actions in what they regard as their territory.
Area B, nearly 200 separate areas together covering 24% of the territory, is comprised of the remaining 460 Palestinian population centers: towns, villages. refugee camps, and hamlets.[Ibid.] Area B contains approximately 68% of the Palestinian population. [“Summary of Israel-PA Agreement,” Reuters, Jerusalem Post (27 September 1995).] It also includes some uninhabited rural areas between villages. In Area B, Israel retains primary responsibility for internal security while the PA is in charge of maintaining public order. The IA provides for 25 Palestinian police stations to be located in the area. These are in the more densely populated areas that would be the next candidates to be part of Area A. Again, Israel’s responsibility is overriding; it may take action despite Palestinian responsibility for public order, and there are no restrictions preventing Israel from entering any part of area B in its fight against terror. The Palestinian police, though, can only enter these areas (apart from specified zones around the 25 police stations) after coordinating with (i.e., getting permission from) Israeli authorities.
Area C, 73% of the region, consists of the remaining territory, covering Israeli settlements, military locations, and uninhabited rural land. Israel retains full authority over both public order and internal security. The few Palestinians in the area fall under PA personal jurisdiction and the PA is responsible for civil affairs not related to territory. However, the IA commits Israel to three further redeployments of unspecified size from Area C. They are to take place at six month intervals; the count originally began in March 1996, with the inauguration of the Palestinian Council. During these 18 months, “powers and responsibilities relating to territory will be transferred gradually to Palestinian jurisdiction” (Article XI, 2e), excluding those issues left for final status negotiations (namely settlements and military locations). However, Israel has the right to decide the extent to which Area C will become part of Area B, where Israel retains security responsibility, and how much, if any, will join Area A. The result is that Israel can make sure that all its specific military sites and settlements are in continuous areas connected to Israel where Israel retains security responsibility, the right to move its troops, and the right to control entry of Palestinian police.
Palestinian responsibilities for internal security and public order are to be carried out by the Palestinian Police. The force is supposed to number 30,000, with 12,000 deployed in the West Bank and the remaining 18,000 in the Gaza Strip. (In fact there are many more police [One conservative estimate by Charles Krauthammer places the figure at 45,000: “Arafat’s War Card” Washington Post (3 October 1996).], who are more heavily armed than provided for in the IA, and, in violation of all of the Accords, are operating in Jerusalem. [Bill Hutman, “Illegal Palestinian Security Offices near Jerusalem Closed,” Jerusalem Post (22 August 1996); idem. “PA Security Forces still Operate in Jerusalem,” Jerusalem Post (29 August 1996).]) This force is responsible for defending the Palestinians as well as protecting the PA. The IA commits the Palestinians to cooperate with Israel in the fight against terror and the prevention of terrorist attacks. In addition, the Agreement specifies the Police as the only Palestinian security authority allowed to operate in the area. The force is obligated to act against all expressions of violence and terror, to issue permits to legalize weapon possession and to confiscate those weapons that are being held illegally, in addition to arrest and prosecute individuals suspected of perpetrating acts of terror. A specific framework for cooperation and the exchange of information between Israel and the Palestinians is laid out in the IA, based on joint patrols, mobile units and liaison committees.
Israeli concessions on the security issue, which essentially amounted to the relinquishment of its unilateral prerogatives in the Palestinian cities, were based on four premises. (1) Israel is limited in its ability to preclude terror. (2) The motivation for terror would be reduced by improvement in the daily living conditions of Palestinians, a limitation of Palestinian-Israeli interaction, and increased Palestinian satisfaction with their political independence. (3) Arafat could be persuaded to act as a strategic partner in the fight against terror. (4) The PA could do a better job fighting terrorist groups than Israel. (Rabin once pointed out that the Palestinians could fight Hamas “without the hassles of the High Court of Justice or B’Tselem and all kinds of left-wing bleeding hearts and organizations of mothers and fathers.” [Michal Yudelman, “Syria Hopes to Reach Separate Accord with Israel Next Week,” Jerusalem Post (3 September 1993).])
Part of the thinking of the Rabin-Peres governments was that the economic situation of the Palestinians could be improved by their new government and by outside aid. Unfortunately, this was unrealistic. Almost regardless of outside help the Palestinian economy cannot be successful in improving living standards until their government performs better than other Arab governments, and better than it has to date.
When local people send capital abroad and do not invest their time and money in productive local investments, outside aid cannot produce prosperity. Local people will not invest their time and money in productive work unless they have a minimal degree of trust in their government. If money can more easily be made by getting some legal or illegal help from the government or the ruling party than by productive investment, and if the benefits of productive investment may be taken away by a corrupt or incompetent government, then not enough people will devote themselves to productive work. And outside countries limit the amount they are willing to help if there are inadequate institutions to account for the use of the money.
Unfortunately, unless the PA improves, it would be easier for the Palestinians to improve their living standards under Israeli occupation than under a Palestinian state or autonomy. The Israeli government was providing law and order and other institutional requirements for prosperity at a low cost, except that the Intifada and Israel’s responses to it were very expensive. Moreover, the Israeli market for Palestinian labor, which depends in part on relations between Palestinians and Israel, is also a major value for the Palestinian economy. [For a discussion of issues facing the Palestinian economy, see Eliyahu Kanovsky, “The Middle East Economies: the Impact of International and Domestic Politics,” BESA Security and Policy Studies, (February 1997).]
When there was an initial increase in violence after the signing of the DOP [Peace Watch reported a 73% increase in the number of Israelis killed in terror attacks in the two years following the signing of the DOP. Jerusalem Post (11 September 1995).] the government expressed confidence that as Arafat’s regime stabilized he would act effectively against terror [See Alon Pinkas, “Rabin: May Take Months for PA to be Effective Against Terror,” Jerusalem Post (14 April 1995).] in the face of Israel’s threat not to continue its redeployment or even to return to the areas that it had vacated. [For a criticism of this strategy, see Mark Heller, “The Need to Have a Look at Area C,” Jerusalem Post (6 October 1995).] Although Rabin’s faith in the cooperative arrangement wavered throughout the Oslo process, and on several occasions he even criticized the policy for which he was ultimately responsible, [For one example, see Clyde Haberman. “Ambivalent Rabin Reflects Israel's Wary View of Peace,” New York Times (7 July 1995).] he remained committed to the idea that cooperation with Arafat provided a better hope for ending terror than unilateral Israeli intervention.
IDF withdrawals and redeployments were a significant gain for the PA/PLO. (Although for some Palestinians it meant a reduction of personal safety and freedom. [For one report of civil rights violations by Palestinian security forces, see “Neither Law Nor Justice,” B’Tselem (August 1995).]) As part of its strategy to stabilize Arafat’s position and bring about an effective negotiating partner, Israel gave Arafat responsibility for internal security in all of Area A although he had not proven his willingness to fight terror in Gaza and Jericho, and Israel withdrew from Gaza and Jericho over a year before it redeployed from the other West Bank cities. (The DOP makes expansion of Palestinian rule contingent on the PA’s fulfillment of its obligations under the DOP in Gaza and Jericho.)
Regarding formal control of territory, the IA commits Israel to transfer most of the West Bank to Palestinian civil authority. It does this by transferring territorial responsibilities in Areas A and B to the PA as part of the initial Israeli redeployment and, as described above, by linking Israel’s further redeployments from Area C to the gradual transfer of civil territorial authority to the PA. This commitment is tempered by Israel’s right to determine unilaterally: (1) whether the PA has assumed responsibility for public order and internal security (the necessary condition for further redeployments); and (2) the areas it needs to retain as “military locations”—and by the security responsibility it retains in Area B, which in effect can be military control, especially in areas of low population.
Transferring control of so much land to the Palestinians was not a necessary consequence of the DOP. The DOP skirts the issue of who will control what territory during the interim period by leaving the extent of Palestinian jurisdiction to further negotiations. With respect to Gaza and Jericho, the DOP is clear. Israel is to withdraw and authority is to be transferred to the PA. However, the document is much less specific with respect to what is to happen in the rest of the West Bank, although it clearly intends that if the PA is in compliance, Israel will withdraw from other cities and Palestinian authority will be extended beyond Gaza-Jericho.
Although PA jurisdiction is to “cover West Bank and Gaza Strip territory, except for issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations” (DOP Article IV), the form of that jurisdiction, and implicitly its implications for who controls what land, is left to further negotiations. The only thing the DOP specifies with respect to Palestinian jurisdiction in the rest of the West Bank is that “with the view to promoting economic development,” five non-territorial civil spheres are to be transferred to the PA (Article VI, 2).
In originally agreeing to withdrawing from Jericho, Israel set a precedent of independent Palestinian authority in the cities. Excluding the blatant failure of the PA to assume responsibility for public order, a failure that would have lead to the collapse of the whole process, Israel had little basis for demanding that Palestinian jurisdiction in the West Bank cities (Area A) be different from that granted in Jericho. The division of jurisdiction in the population centers of Area B is a compromise between the Palestinian demand for control over the people and Israel’s need to retain control over the main traffic arteries for security reasons. Most of the villages are located along the roads. [David Makovsky and Alon Pinkas, “Redeployment Talks Stuck over Control of Villages, Roads,” Jerusalem Post (3 July 1995).] Rather than dividing the authority territorially, which could lead only to more conflict and confusion, the two sides agreed to a more natural functional division, with greater responsibility being transferred to the PA once it demonstrated its commitment and competence.
What is striking, however, is that Israel agreed that Area B include every single place where Arabs live, down to hamlets of 50 people¾regardless of how sensitive the locations of these hamlets and villages might be. [For Palestinian demographic estimates, see “Small Area Population,” Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Ramallah (April 1996).] For example, the tiny hamlets of Marj en Naja and Zubemat, situated right in the middle of the Jordan Valley, became pieces of Area B, along with El Jaba, which sits astride the connection between Gush Etzion and Israel. It is clear that no negotiation and no principle of division between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was used to determine what areas became part of Area B; it was made to include all areas in which as few as 50 Arabs live. However, it was also extended to include some adjacent empty areas, such as a large area East of Nuba. The empty areas included in Area B provide the Palestinians with some territorial contiguity, reducing the number of separated territorial units.
Israel agreed to this automatic extension of Area B to all areas—including those of potential tactical importance to Israel—where even very small numbers of Palestinians lived, because formally the inclusion of territory in Area B did not prejudice the ultimate disposition of that land, and the government did not want to have civil jurisdiction of small clumps of Arab population. In other words the government did not see the inclusion of land in Area B as a concession. While technically they were correct, as a practical matter the Palestinians are likely to be able to find opportunities to use some of these “non-concessions” against Israel.
In providing for withdrawal from other than specified areas of Area C, Israel also agreed to PA control over uninhabited lands. This is despite the fact that all of the agreements avoid discussion of national claims to sovereignty and are based only on recognition of “political rights.” If we try to understand the reasons Israel agreed to include so much area in what is, in many ways, basically a land transfer to the PA, it is difficult to discern what Israel received in return for making the transfer as large as it was. The goal of implementing the DOP by providing the PA with authority over the places where almost all Palestinians live could have been achieved with a much smaller transfer. The PA made no further concessions in the IA, except to continue to postpone their demands.
It has been argued by the framers of the IA that by linking the transfer of territorial authority to sequential Israeli redeployments, Israel created an incentive for PA security cooperation. However, such a rationale seems to suggest that the land was Palestinian to begin with and that Israel was holding on to it, just to make sure the PA behaved itself. In any case it does not explain the extent of the transfer.
Although there is substantial Israeli non-compliance with the IA, Israel has carried out its basic commitments. With the exception of Hebron, IDF forces quickly completed redeployment in Areas A and B. Quasi democratic elections for the Palestinian Council were held on January 20, 1996. Forty areas of civil authority have been transferred to Palestinian authority. And the Palestinian Police have been put into action. These commitments were carried out by the previous Israeli government. Exactly what policy Netanyahu will follow, regarding Israel’s obligation for further redeployments, remains to be seen.
However, in its two years of operation, the PA has neither completely fulfilled its obligation to combat terror, nor demonstrated its commitment to a real and final peace. As reported by Peace Watch, [Peace Watch, “PLO and PA Compliance with their Obligation to Prevent Terror Attacks during the Palestinian Authority’s First Two Years,” (5 August 1996).] the PA has failed to initiate programs aimed at fostering support of the peace process and discouraging violence (senior PA officials have continued to rely on incitement and propaganda, calling for jihad and praising terrorists); it has been unwilling to suppress terrorist organizations (both through disarmament and a dismantling of their infrastructure); and it has refused to punish terrorists (both through its rejection of the “extradition” procedures specified in the IA and its quick and secret release of terrorists sentenced in Palestinian state security courts).
Protection from terror was one of Israel’s main objectives in the Oslo process. Israel believed that changing the conditions in which Palestinians lived¾improving their political and economic situation and giving them control over their own internal affairs¾would make them choose peace. Israel also secured general and specific promises from Arafat.
There were two justifications for the expectation that the Palestinians would cooperate in fighting terrorism. The first is purely pragmatic. Israel said, “we cannot afford to move out of these territories unless you cooperate in the following ways;” and the Palestinians said, “OK, we'll do X and Y so that you can afford to move out.” The second type of justification is more profound. It puts forth that the Palestinian agreed to end terror because the two sides had embarked on negotiations that potentially could bring about peace. It is not clear whether the PA ever made such an agreement; and if they did, it seems fairly clear that they have not more than partially kept it.
Rabin recognized that whatever PA cooperation Israel received was motivated by Palestinian desire for further empowerment. As Rabin said, “They will have something to lose if they do not exert control. They will have an enormous stake in securing the peace. If they fail and the bloodletting continues they know they will not arrive at their destination. . .” [Sarah Honig, “PM: Palestinian Police Need to Control Terror,” Jerusalem Post (11 February 1994).] It also seems that Rabin was confident that the PA would be capable of carrying out the task. “Of course people can ask what will happen if the Palestinian police force does not succeed [in imposing order]. Today, I am certain they are sincere, and I believe that if they are sincere and want to, they will succeed.” [Dan Izenberg, “PM: Palestinian Police will Succeed in Imposing Order,” Jerusalem Post (14 December 1993).] Rabin also placed hope that the threat that the groups rejecting Oslo posed to the PLO would be further reason for the PLO to act against them. [Batsheva Tsur, “Rabin: No Giving in to Atrocities,” Jerusalem Post (25 July 1995); Clyde Haberman, “On Tightrope Now, Arafat Totters on Same Dilemma,” New York Times (24 April 1995).]
However, it became apparent right away that Arafat was not acting to eradicate terrorism. He acted more as if he was negotiating toward a future peace with Israel. Outside of peace, the Palestinians have nothing to surrender or deliver; they can only retreat from their own demands or threaten to return to war. A party in the Palestinian position needs to convince the other side that it can, and will deliver what is desired¾peace¾but that it will refuse unless it gets the price it seeks. Arafat could have said, “I agree to peace, but if you do not give me more, I'll take it back.” However, carrying out such a policy would have been costly in the face of the domestic opposition, and the internal enmity he would have invited had he tried fully to suppress terrorism. Thus, Arafat’s strategy hinged on two issues. How could he get the most for peace? And how far could he suppress terrorism without losing internal support?
Arafat had to decide how much terror, if any, he wanted there to be, and then to reduce or increase the independently initiated terror to his desired level. Maximal levels of terrorism might have been seen to have the advantage of forcing Israel to move faster to make concessions and to implement a form of Oslo most favorable to the Palestinians. Also, high levels of terrorism would have increased Arafat's popularity and Palestinian morale. However, too much terror would have caused Israel to retreat from the peace process, and it seems clear that Arafat made some efforts, through his security organizations and information sharing, to reduce terror and to aid Israel’s campaign against it.
Arafat chose the level of his effort devoted to limiting terrorism. He could have done more or less. Why did he choose the level he did? Was it because he was satisfied with the level of terror? Or was it because¾although he would have preferred less terror¾further effort against terror would have hurt his internal political position? Perhaps he wished to keep in reserve his potential to do more to reduce terrorism, so that it would be available to use when it could give more bargaining advantage.
If Arafat's ability to reduce terrorism is limited by the political cost to him of doing so, he has two choices. He can try to build political support for restricting terrorism or he can maximize his invisible efforts to help Israel defeat terror. Statements made by Netanyahu shortly after taking office about the level of intelligence information being provided by PA security forces suggest that Arafat has placed emphasis on invisible efforts. It is clear that he has not used his extensive influence to convince Palestinians that they have either an obligation to reduce terror or that it is in their interest to do so.
Since much or all of the recent terror attacks against Israel have come from organizations that are not Arafat's supporters, actions against them might have strengthened his political position as well as reduced terror. Apparently, Arafat is either afraid of acting more strongly against such organizations or is satisfied with the level of terror they are producing .
We need not debate whether Arafat could have tried to govern the Palestinians differently than he did. Perhaps he had no choice¾given expectations and traditions in his various constituencies and his own experience. But within the general approach he has followed¾more or less standard feudal authoritarian practice¾he had a number of tactical alternatives in the fight against terror, all of which he rejected: (1) to destroy Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and the other organizations continuing to carry out terror; (2) to sell the need for true peace with Israel; (3) to sell the danger to Palestinian interests of terror actions against Israel; (4) to initiate a diplomatic campaign in Arab states against terror and for contingent support for peace with Israel; (5) to remind Palestinians of how their interests had been ignored by Arab leaders and to increase Palestinian alignment with the Arab states who are willing to make peace with Israel.
Arafat has used his time in the territories neither to prepare the Palestinians for the cost of a real peace nor to demonstrate to Israel that he is committed to a real peace. Arafat and Palestinian officials continued to use a rhetoric of violence, praising terrorists as martyrs and threatening a return to armed conflict. PA institutions published anti-Israel propaganda and few measures were taken against newspapers and organizations that continued to distribute anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic articles, cartoons, and leaflets. Senior PA officials publicly took part in Hamas rallies, and no curricula of peace and coexistence were introduced into the Palestinian educational system. [For a complete discussion of the Palestinian record, see the report by Peace Watch .]
One piece of evidence, noteworthy because of the emphasis put on it as a potential symbol of the change in Palestinian intentions, is the PLO covenant. In his 9 September 1993 letter to Yitzhak Rabin preceding the signing of the DOP, Arafat committed the PLO formally to nullify those articles of the covenant which deny Israel’s right to exist and are inconsistent with the principles of the Oslo process. He made the commitment again as part of the negotiations over Israeli withdrawal from Gaza-Jericho, promising to bring about the change within two months of his assumption of power. The Palestinian National Council (PNC) finally did convene on 24 April 1996 and passed a resolution in which it “amended by canceling the articles that are contrary to the letters exchanged between the PLO and the Government of Israel” and assigned to a legal committee the task of redrafting the charter within six months. [Amendment Palestinian Covenant-Arafat Letter & Text¾4 May 1996, Information Division, Israel Foreign Ministry.] As of yet no so such body has fulfilled this task, and there have been no reports of such a committee meeting or working.
As explained by the speaker of the PNC, Salim Zaanoun, to the PNC during the April 24 session, structuring the resolution as it did was an attempt to “fulfill the commitment demanded at the lowest possible price.” [Jon Immanuel, “Fatah Report: Covenant Frozen, not Amended,” Jerusalem Post (22 May 1996).] It put off making the hard decisions until the legal committee completed its work. Although Palestinian leaders have continually proclaimed to Israel and the Western press that they fulfilled their obligation and nullified the articles at issue, in their internal documents and statements in Arabic they have suggested otherwise. An apparently authoritative internal publication issued by the “Research and Thought” division of Fatah in Ramallah in April 1996 clarifies that: “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 but not annulled.” [Fatah, Research and Thought Department, “The Palestinian National Covenant¾Between Renewal and Being Frozen,” Fatah Publication #8, April 1996. Document provided by Peace Watch.]
The convening of the PNC, the discussion of the issue, and the resolution that was passed do have positive meaning, even though it may not be full compliance. It is significant that the Palestinian public debate at the time indicated that the PNC’s action was widely seen as acceding to Israel’s demand that the charter be amended. However, in postponing the full implementation of their obligation and refusing to initiate a public debate over the objectives of the Palestinian national movement, the PLO has not shown that it is ready for the difficult decisions and sacrifices needed for a real and lasting peace. But it has not shown the opposite either, because apparently the form of the Palestinian action on the Charter was agreed to between Peres and Arafat before it was announced. We do not know whether Arafat would have done more to the charter if Peres had not in effect given him permission to do as little as he did.
Despite Palestinian statements to the contrary, both the former Labor government and the United States government continued to insist that the PLO fulfilled its obligation. [It is also noteworthy that the position of Peace Watch is that the resolution does not meet compliance with the IA. See Peace Watch, “PNC Vote Does Not Fulfill PLO Obligation to Amend Covenant,” Press Release (25 April 1996).] On May 16, the US commended Palestinian compliance with the Oslo process and cited specifically that it had “made the necessary changes to the covenant.” [Quoted in Hillel Kuttler, “US: PLO, PA meeting commitment to Israel,” Jerusalem Post (17 May 1996).] The Netanyahu government has taken a more demanding position. Initially, the Likud leadership condemned the PNC resolution as not satisfying the PLO’s obligation. Since its assumption of power, however, the Netanyahu government has not focused on the issue. Upon receipt of a letter of clarification on the issue from Arafat, the same letter Arafat had sent to Peres earlier, Netanyahu’s reaction was limited to an expression of his disappointment with the PNC initiative. [“Arafat Sends Assurance Letter,” Jerusalem Post (24 July 1996).] There are probably two reasons for his moderation: (1) the Clinton administration asserted that it is satisfied with the PNC resolution as meeting compliance with the PLO obligations; (2) there were other areas of Palestinian noncompliance that were more pressing. Nonetheless, following the failure of the PNC to carry out its commitment to redraft the Charter within six months of the 24 April 1996 Assembly, the Netanyahu government started to take a more assertive position on the issue.
One area where the government took a hard position on PLO compliance is PA activity in Jerusalem, which is not authorized by the IA—the PA’s source of authority. All of the agreements signed between Israel and the PLO specify that PA offices “shall be located in areas under Palestinian territorial jurisdiction” (IA, Article I, 7), which does not include Jerusalem. In March 1995, Peace Watch reported that the PA was operating seven such offices in violation of the Agreement. Independent sources have also reported that PA security forces are operating in East Jerusalem. [Israel recently closed two offices of the Palestinian security forces, located in Arab villages just east of Jerusalem, that were being used as a base for operation in the eastern part of the city itself. For a recent account of PA police activity and human rights violations in East Jerusalem, see Uri Dan and Dennis Eisenberg, “Like Being in Hell,” Jerusalem Post (5 September 1996).] Initially, the PA responded by claiming either that they had no connection to the offices [See Bill Hutman, “Palestinians Keep Jerusalem Offices if They Sign Declaration,” Jerusalem Post (1 September 1995). For discussions of the ambiguous status of Faisal Husseini and Orient House, see Bill Hutman and Jon Immanuel, “Husseini: Diplomat without Portfolio,” Jerusalem Post (11 November 1994).] (this is the claim made regarding Orient House), or that the offices had been in operation before the Oslo process began and therefore were entitled to continue operations in accordance with the secret letter sent by Shimon Peres to Arafat following the signing of the DOP. [See David Makovsky and Dan Izenberg, “Peres Letter in October ‘93 Encouraged Palestinian Institutions in Capital,” Jerusalem Post (7 June 1994).] The current status of PA Activity in Jerusalem remains in dispute, both within the Israeli government and between the Israeli government and the PA. [See Bill Hutman, “Gov’t Sources: PA has Met Demand to Close Eastern Jerusalem Offices," Jerusalem Post (26 August 1996).]
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