The Palestine National Council will not amend its covenant calling for the destruction of Israel as long as Jewish settlers remain in Hebron, according to its chairman.
“The council would not be able to proceed” with the problem of Hebron “hanging from the air,” said Salim al-Zanoun, chairman of the PNC, at a meeting here sponsored by the National Association of Arab Americans.
The fate of Hebron has stalled negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, with the PLO demanding control of the city and Israel insisting it keep forces in the city to protect about 400 Jewish settlers who live among 120,000 Palestinians.
The PNC, the PLO’s so-called government in exile, needs a two-thirds vote of all its members to amend the covenant.
Zanoun’s stance directly contradicts PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat’s promise to amend the covenant within 60 days of presumed Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza.
At the same time, however, the leader of the PLO’s government in exile said he is optimistic that the PNC would ultimately amend the covenant.
“Amending the Palestine National Charter is dependent on the satisfaction of PNC members that the peace process has achieved most of its goals,” he said through a translator. “The PNC, stemming from its firm belief that the Palestinian decision for peace is a strategic and not a tactical choice, would like to see such a meeting take place.”
Zanoun’s Washington visit came as a storm erupted in Israel when a Palestinian Authority official said Jews would be barred from praying at holy sites in the west Bank if the sites came under Palestinian control.
Hassan Tahboub, the Palestinian minister of religious affairs, claimed that the sites were Muslim properly and reportedly said, “Jews can visit them, but they will not be allowed to pray there.”
“Once they are under our control, we will not allow anybody to turn them into synagogues,” Tahboub reportedly said.
Tahboub was referring to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus.
But as further indication of divided Palestinian views, Zanoun dismissed Tahboub’s claim.
“As far as I’m concerned, there will be freedom of worship for all,” he said.
As far as amending the covenant – an issue which has served as a rallying cry for Israelis and American Jews opposed to the peace process – Zanoun pledged to call a meeting jurisdiction over the rest of the West Bank, Israel releases all 6,000 Palestinian prisoners and they are guaranteed the right to participate in the elections, Palestinian elections are held under “honest, free and democratic conditions away from the specter of occupation” and PNC members living in the Diaspora and granted their “natural right to return” and settle as citizens in their “homeland and not simply as visitors or tourists.”
Zanoun met with Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) during his visit here.
The PNC leader said he urged Dole “not to allow domestic political considerations to infringe upon issues that are part of the bilateral negotiations,” he said, referring to Dole’s initiative to relocate the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Resist “introducing Jerusalem into the domestic election campaign,” he said he told Dole. The United States “should not seek any other selfish interest other than the sponsorship of the peace process.”
Zanoun also called for a continuation of aid to the Palestinians.
“We also urge the U.S. Congress through both houses not to a fall victim to Likudist Zionist lobbying,” he said.
Before the Dole meeting, Zanoun called for more American intervention in the peace process.
“We blame the United States for leaving the Israeli and Palestinian parties without sponsorship or intervention,” he said.
Zanoun also blamed Israel for stalling the process.
“It is not conceivable for the United States as the premier sponsor of the peace process to simply watch Israel as it violates on deadline after another,” he said.
Zanoun also called for the sides “not to lose this historical opportunity during the lives of Arafat,” Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabn and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
“Failing to achieve peace during the life of these current leaders,” he said, “means taking the area back to the vicious circle of violence whenever power is transferred to the next generation, thus causing many more innocent victims, women and children, from both sides.”