The decision made by the Palestinian National Council (PNC) last night regarding the PLO Covenant does not satisfy the obligation laid down in the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement (Oslo II). The PNC did not actually amend the Covenant, but instead approved in principle that changes would be made, without specifying which clauses would be changed, in what manner, or by what date.

The PNC vote does mark an important step towards compliance with the obligation to amend the Covenant. However, to fulfill the obligation set out in Article XXXI (9) of Oslo II, the PNC must complete the amendment process by May 7.

The PNC vote was taken in a closed session and the PNC and PLO have yet to release an official version of the resolution. Conflicting versions of the resolution’s text appear today in the Arabic newspapers Al-Quds and Al-Ayyam, and in a release put out by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center. The operative clauses in the JMCC version, which in the view of Peace Watch is the most accurate, states as follows: “First: The Palestinian National Council delegates the legal committee to prepare a National Program; Second: The Program shall be presented to the Palestinian Council in a special session in accordance with the provisions of Article 33 of the Covenant for its adoption; Third: The Charter shall be amended by repealing all that contravenes the mutual letters of recognition between the PLO and the state of Israel.”

This decision fails to meet the obligations laid out in Article XXXI(9) of the Oslo II 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. In legal terms, 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. In a legal opinion released on April 8, 1996, Peace Watch stated that if the PNC chooses to annul specific articles in the Covenant, it would have to adopt “a detailed list of amendments to particular articles in the Covenant.” Israel’s position when the Oslo accords were signed, which was reiterated subsequently, is that the PNC must amend all the clauses which deny Israel’s right to exist or support the armed struggle against the Jewish state. According to various assessments, this understanding would require the removal of anywhere between 10 and 28 of the Covenant’s 33 clauses. Palestinian officials, on the other hand, have spoken of changing far fewer clauses, and the PNC decision leaves open the question of which articles will be amended.