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PLO Declares `independence Day’ Despite Dissension in the Ranks

As the Palestinian Authority declared Tuesday “Palestine Independence Day,” more than half of the members of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee boycotted their first official meeting in Gaza.

Only eight of the committee’s 18 members attended the session, four short of the necessary number for a quorum. As a result, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat declared it merely an informal meeting.

PLo officials who boycotted the meeting said they suspected Arafat was going to call on the committee to urge the Palestinian National Council, the so-called parliament in-exile, to abrogate portions of the PLO’s charter that call for the destruction of Israel.

The officials who remained in Tunis, the former PLO headquarters, said Israel first had to withdraw all its troops from the West Bank and Gaza.

When Israel and the PLO officially recognized each other in the days prior to the signing of the Palestinian self-rule accord last year in Washington, Arafat pledged to change those sections of the PLO charter that deny Israel’s right to exist. Arafat has repeated the pledge on more than one occasion since.

Among those boycotting the executive committee meeting was Farouk Kaddoumi, who heads the PLO’s political department in Tunis.

Despite dissent in the ranks, Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank designated Tuesday their independence day.

On November 15, 1988, the Palestine National Council, meeting in Algiers, declared an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians have since celebrated the day, despite Israeli bans.

At a rally in Gaza City, Arafat said the struggle for a Palestinian state would continue.

“In 1974, the Palestinian National Council decided to establish a Palestinian National Authority on any land Israel withdraws from, and we have achieved the first step,” he said. “We will continue the march until we raise the Palestinian flag on Jerusalem, the capital of our Palestinian state.”

Arafat appealed to all factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which reject the PLO’s accord with Israel, to unite in building a Palestinian homeland.

Also on Tuesday, Israel handed over to the Palestinians control over welfare and tourism in the West Bank. Control over taxation and health is expected by the end of November.

Israeli settlers living in the West Bank will now obtain welfare services within Israel.

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