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Arafat Said to ‘nullify’ Covenant at Meeting with American Jews

An American Jew who took part Tuesday in talks with Yasir Arafat said the Palestine Liberation Organization chairman considers the PLO Covenant, which calls for the elimination of Israel, to be nullified.

In specific reference to recent PLO deliberations at the Palestine National Council meeting in Algiers, “Arafat said several times that the PLO charter had been abrogated or nullified — he used both words,” Menachem Rosensaft said in a telephone interview from Stockholm.

Rosensaft took part in the talks with Arafat in Stockholm along with four other American Jews. All are affiliated with the American arm of the Tel Aviv-based International Center for Peace in the Middle East. Rosensaft is also president of the Labor Zionist Alliance and founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Holocaust Survivors.

The PLO’s continued acceptance of its 20-year-old covenant, which declares armed struggle to be “the only way to liberate Palestine,” remains a major stumbling block in Arafat’s quest to become a negotiating partner in a peace settlement.

Arafat made no mention of the PLO Covenant in a joint statement issued in Stockholm Wednesday. However, the statement declared that the PLO has “accepted the existence of Israel as a state in the region” and “declared its rejection and condemnation of terrorism in all its forms, including state terrorism.”

Furthermore, Arafat told a news conference that the PLO’s acceptance of Israel “was clear in the resolutions adopted by the Palestine National Council when we said clearly there are two states in Palestine, a Palestinian state and a Jewish state.”

According to Rosensaft, Arafat’s statement Wednesday represents “a major step forward in that (it is) the first time the PLO has unambiguously accepted Israel — using the name, not in brackets — as a state.

Besides Rosensaft, the American participants in Tuesday’s six-and-a-half-hour meeting were Rita Hauser, chairwoman of the International Center for Peace in the Middle East; Drora Kass, its executive director; Stanley Sheinbaum, an economist and publisher; and Abraham Udovitch, chairman of the department of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University.

Rosensaft said the meeting with Arafat was initiated by the Swedish government. The Swedes invited Hauser, Kass and Sheinbaum to a meeting with PLO representatives two weeks ago, where a first draft of the statement was completed.

Rosensaft said that preliminary draft had been relayed to U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, prior to his decision to deny Arafat a visa to address the United Nations in New York. Shultz expressed astonishment, according to Rosensaft, and asked why the statement had not been made in Algiers.

The Jewish leader would not conjecture why Arafat chose a meeting with a delegation of American Jews as a forum to make his statement, when the opportunity existed last month at the Algiers meeting.

Rosensaft acknowledged the criticism he faces for engaging in private diplomacy as president of a major American Jewish group and leader of a Holocaust survivors advocacy group.

Rosensaft said he went to Stockholm as an individual and a board member of the International Center for Peace in the Middle East, and not on behalf of his other affiliations.

“I knew perfectly well what the reaction would be in the Jewish community. But if I didn’t go, I would have no right ever again to talk about the peace process,” he said.

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