Palestinians delete threat to Israel Offending clauses dropped from charter

December 15, 1998|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- With President Clinton standing among them, the Palestinian leaders voted yesterday to reaffirm the revocation of clauses in their charter that called for Israel's destruction, a move aimed at restoring the Middle East peace process.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who conditioned further progress in the peace process on the vote by the Palestinians, said he was satisfied with the action.

Clinton, Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat were to hold a summit today at the Gaza-Israel border, to consolidate the events of the president's three-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

But a top aide to Netanyahu said the next Israeli troop withdrawal from the Palestinian territories, scheduled for Friday, would likely not occur because the Israeli Cabinet must first review the Palestinians' decision.

"The Cabinet has to meet and decide if the Palestinians are meeting their obligations before any redeployment is implemented," said David Bar-Illan, a chief aide to Netanyahu.

"There is no question none of the other violations have been corrected," he said, referring to the Palestinian leadership's commitment to contain anti-Israeli violence.

Bar-Illan said the Palestinian leaders acted to please Clinton, who attended the meeting as part of his efforts to break a deadlock in the peace process.

Until the last minute, it was unknown just how the Palestinian reaffirmation would take place, or whether it would satisfy the Israeli demand. During an address to the gathering, Arafat asked his comrades to reaffirm the 1996 Palestine National Council decision to delete the charter clauses that offend Israelis.

"Would you please raise your hands in support?" Arafat asked.

Almost immediately, hands shot up. About 500 to 600 Palestinian leaders sitting in the hall were eligible to vote. No tally was taken, but a majority of those believed eligible to vote raised their hands.

Clinton gives thanks

Clinton, who addressed the group of about 900 Palestinian ministers, lawmakers, social leaders and international guests, said the Palestinian action was a vote for peace.

"I thank you for your rejection -- fully, finally and forever -- of the passages in the Palestinian charter calling for the destruction of Israel," Clinton said. "By revoking them once and for all you have sent a powerful message, not to the government, but to the people of Israel. You will touch people on the street here. You will reach their hearts there."

Clinton's visit has been dogged by the presidential impeachment process in Washington. He was asked about it with Arafat standing by his side yesterday, and he asserted that impeaching him was not in the nation's interest.

In Gaza yesterday, Clinton focused on the Palestinians and their suffering.

Accompanied by his wife, Hillary, and daughter, Chelsea, Clinton was given a colorful, red-carpet welcome in Gaza, where he arrived by helicopter at the newly opened Palestinian-controlled airport amid a flutter of Palestinian and U.S. flags.

Hardships recognized

Speaking later, with conviction and emotion, Clinton recognized both the pain and the promise of the Palestinian people. In a speech addressed as much to the Israeli public as to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the president conceded that many Palestinians have not benefited from the 1993 Oslo accords, which began the phased, land-for-security peace process.

"For too many Palestinians lives are hard, jobs are scarce, prospects are uncertain and personal grief is great," said the president.

Clinton, who a day ago professed unwavering U.S. support of Israel, acknowledged the Palestinians concerns with Israel -- settlement expansion, land confiscations, house demolitions and the imprisonment of their family members.

But he also noted that the Oslo accords had given Palestinians the chance to govern themselves in their own cities. The Palestinians have experienced other gains: an elected legislative council, a new airport and a relationship with the United States.

"I believe you have gained more in five years of peace than in 45 years of war," said Clinton.

He encouraged Palestinians to persevere for peace. And as he told Israelis in a speech Sunday evening, the president said a true and lasting peace can only be achieved through recognition and respect of the other.

"The fulfillment of one side's aspirations must not come at the expense of the other," Clinton said. "Palestinians must recognize the right of Israel and its people to live safe and secure lives today, tomorrow and forever. Israel must recognize the right of Palestinians to aspire to live free today, tomorrow and forever."

U.S. support pledged

He pledged continued U.S. support, politically and financially, and suggested that a new page had been turned in U.S.-Palestinian relations. "I hope you have begun to see America as your friend," said the president to applause.

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