BACKGROUNDER: Wye and the Palestinian Covenant

Media reports on implementation of the Wye River Memorandum have incorrectly characterized as a “new demand” Israel’s position that the Palestinian Covenant must be revised by a full meeting of the Palestinian National Council.

Misleading Media Reports

• A New York Times story entitled “Netanyahu Issues New Demand as Cabinet Meets on Pact,” portrays Israel’s position on revision of the covenant as “a new demand that went far beyond the terms of the written [Wye] accord …”(Deborah Sontag, November 6, 1998)

• Another Times story, “With Conditions, Israel Cabinet Approves Accord,” states that Israel:

conditionally ratified the … accord tonight, attaching a series of stipulations and threats that the Palestinians interpreted as overtures to conflict, not resolution. (emphasis added)
Mr. Netanyahu said that the entire Palestinian National Council … must meet and vote by majority to strike clauses from the Palestinian covenant calling for Israel’s destruction. That goes beyond the text of the accord, which makes no mention of a vote or majority decision. (Sontag, November 12, 1998)

• The Washington Post, in a story entitled “Israel Ratifies Pact, but Doubts Remain,” states that the Israeli cabinet:

added so many conditions to its narrow approval [of Wye] that U.S. officials said they fear fresh delays and disputes over implementing it are inevitable. … The cabinet also demanded a “properly conducted vote” by the 700-member Palestinian National Council to annul portions of its charter that call for Israel’s destruction. That demand appears to be a rewriting of the Wye agreement
(Lee Hockstader, November 12, 1998; emphasis added)

CNN, in a story entitled “Israelis Add Conditions to Wye River Agreement,” reported:

the Israelis are apparently imposing three conditions to ratification, superimposing new conditions beyond what they agreed to at the White House and at Wye… . Netanyahu is back to insisting that the full Palestinian National Council must muster a majority — two-thirds majority vote to revoke clauses in the Palestinian Charter which the Israelis consider hostile to them. (Walter Rodgers, November 11, 1998)

Contrary to these reports Wye explicitly states that prior agreements, which require formal revocation of the Palestinian Covenant, are not superseded. Thus, rather than making new demands, Israel is merely insisting that the Palestinian side comply with prior agreements under which Israel has already made far-reaching concessions.

Wye Memorandum Incorporates Previous Agreements

The widely ignored first paragraph of Wye states that the new agreement is intended to:

facilitate implementation of the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip of September 28, 1995 and other related agreements including the Note for the Record of January 17, 1997 (hereinafter referred to as the “prior agreements”) so that the Israeli and Palestinian sides can more effectively carry out their reciprocal responsibilities, including those relating to further redeployments and security, respectively. These steps are to be carried out in a parallel phased approach in accordance with the Memorandum and the attached time line. They are subject to the relevant terms and conditions of the prior agreements and do not supersede their other requirements. (emphasis added)

Thus Wye does not supersede, but rather incorporates and extends, the prior agreements. And these agreements are quite clear on the question of revising the Palestinian National Covenant; in particular, Oslo 2 states:

The PLO undertakes that, within two months of the date of the inauguration of the [Legislative] Council, the Palestinian National Council will convene and formally approve the necessary changes in regard to the Palestinian Covenant, as undertaken in the letters signed by the Chairman of the PLO and addressed to the Prime Minister of Israel, dated September 9, 1993 and May 4, 1994. (Article XXXI, Final Clauses, paragraph 9)

While the PNC did meet on April 24, 1996, rather than voting on specific changes to the Covenant (as required by the Covenant itself), it merely approved a resolution referring the matter to a legal committee which was to suggest a draft of a revised covenant. That committee has neither met nor even been formed. Recognizing this failure to change the Covenant, the Note for the Record of the Hebron Accord states under “Palestinian Responsibilities”:

The Palestinian side reaffirms its commitments to the following measures and principles in accordance with the Interim Agreement (emphasis added):

1. Complete the process of revising the Palestinian National Charter

Wye Memorandum on the Palestinian Covenant

It is true that the Wye Memorandum is less specific concerning the Palestinian Covenant than the previous agreements quoted above. However, since Wye incorporates these previous agreements, Wye’s requirement that the PNC meet together with other bodies to affirm support for revising the Covenant is an addendum to the earlier requirements, not a replacement. Indeed, as quoted above, Wye states explicitly that the terms of the new agreement are “subject to the relevant terms and conditions of the prior agreements and do not supersede” them.

In sum, the Wye Memorandum in no way supplants prior agreements which require, among other things, that the Palestinians formally and definitively revoke all clauses in the Palestinian Covenant that call for armed struggle against Israel and that deny Israel’s existence and legitimacy.

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