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Who cares if the PLO revokes its recognition of Israel?

Maurice Hirsch, Adv.  |
  • The PLO has never truly recognized Israel

  • Unless Israel “freezes settlements” and  “establish a Palestinian state in the June 4 [1967] borders whose capital is East Jerusalem… we will revoke all the agreements, including revoking recognition of the State of Israel… and the security coordination” - Head of the Palestinian National Council

  • “We will continue to fight through all the means that are available to us... Even armed struggle is permitted” – PLO official

One of the foundation stones of the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Peace Accord was Yasser Arafat’s recognition of “the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.” While Arafat did indeed sign a letter accepting this fundamental reality on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), ever since, PLO and Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders have consistently raised the idea of revoking that recognition.

Recently, this threat has been raised over and over.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly last September, Mahmoud Abbas, who simultaneously holds the position of Head of the PLO and PA Chairman, laid down an ultimatum requiring Israel to capitulate to all the Palestinian demands – referred to by Abbas as the Palestinian “initiative” - within one year or face the consequences:     

“To ensure our initiative is not open-ended, we must state that Israel, the occupying Power, has one year to withdraw from the Palestinian territory it occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and we are ready to work throughout this year on the delineation of borders and solving all final status issues under the auspices of the international Quartet and in accordance with United Nations resolutions. If this is not achieved, why maintain recognition of Israel based on the 1967 borders? Why maintain this recognition?”

[UN speech, Sept. 24, 2021]

Rawhi Fattouh, who was recently appointed Head of the Palestinian National Council - the PLO legislative body – echoed Abbas’ message, promising that if Israel does not capitulate to their demands, the Palestinians would “do everything,” including revoking its recognition of Israel:

“If there will not be an initiative by the US first of all, and in addition to this by the international community, to hold an international conference whose goal is implementing what was agreed upon, and in addition to this pressure on Israel not only to freeze the settlements but also to establish a Palestinian state in the June 4 [1967] borders whose capital is East Jerusalem – [then] we will do everything, and this is not a threat but rather we will actually do this. We will revoke all the agreements, including revoking recognition of the State of Israel, and I say this on the screen of [official] PA TV: including revoking recognition of the State of Israel, and the security coordination [with Israel], and all of these issues.”

[Official PA TV, Topic of the Day, Jan. 3, 2022]

On the anniversary of the so-called Palestinian declaration of independence in November, the PNC issued a statement also conditioning further PLO recognition of Israel on the creation of a “State of Palestine" whose capital is Jerusalem - i.e. demanding that Israel agree to the Palestinian demands. The PNC statement reflected another section of Abbas’ UN speech in which he curiously said that among the options open to the Palestinians - should Israel not capitulate - is “returning to a solution based on the [UN] partition plan of resolution 181 (II) adopted in 1947”:  

“The Palestinian National Council said that recognition of Israel cannot continue without it ending the occupation and recognizing the independent State of Palestine whose capital is Jerusalem, in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the international institutions…

In a statement it issued today, Sunday, [Nov. 14, 2021,] for the 33rd anniversary of the issuing of the [Palestinian] declaration of independence, the National Council emphasized that our people adheres to its right to continue to fight until it receives all its rights according to the relevant UN resolutions, and especially [UN] Resolution 181 of 1947.”

[WAFA, official PA news agency, Nov. 14, 2021]

Clearly, Abbas and the PNC still believe that the 1947 UN partition plan, which was rejected entirely by the Arab world who then started a war to eradicate the Jewish presence in Israel, is still an option on the table.

Referring directly to Arafat’s letter recognizing Israel’s right to exist and the parallel letter of then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that recognized the PLO as “the representative of the Palestinian people,” PLO Executive Committee member Azzam Al-Ahmad said that the PLO should “breach” the recognition and demand that Israel recognize a Palestinian state. Al-Ahmad added that if Israel does not acquiesce, then all options are open to the PLO, including “armed struggle” – i.e., terror:

“There is a mutual letter of recognition between the Israeli government and the PLO. I say that now we need to breach this document. We want mutual recognition between two states. If they won’t agree to recognition between states, we are not interested in their recognition… We will continue to fight through all the means that are available to us... Even armed struggle is permitted. According to the international resolutions and the UN Charter any state under occupation has the right to fight as a liberation movement until the end of the occupation, and we are still a liberation movement.”

[Official PA TV, Topic of the Day, Jan. 31, 2022]

But in truth, as Al-Ahmad himself made clear, the PLO recognition of Israel’s right to exist was always a sham.

The PLO is made up of a number of Palestinian organizations. Some of these organizations, like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, reject the Oslo Accords, consistently call for terror against Israel and openly call for Israel’s destruction. However, the most dominant member of the PLO is Fatah, lead in 1993 by Yasser Arafat and today by Abbas.

Clarifying the position of Fatah and refuting the claims of Hamas - an internationally designated terror organization and a Fatah rival - Al-Ahmad last year reaffirmed that the goal of Fatah is to destroy Israel and replace it with a Palestinian state. Al-Ahmed added that Fatah “has not recognized Israel”:

PLO Executive Committee member Azzam Al-Ahmad: “If there is no [UN Resolution] 242 and no two-state solution, we don’t need it. If there is no [UN Resolution] 181, we don’t need it. We will withdraw our recognition of them [Israel]. We want a democratic state on all the Palestinian land, on all the historical Palestinian land (i.e., refers to all of Israel together with the PA areas), from the furthest Galilee (i.e., in northern Israel) to the Negev (i.e., in southern Israel), and not until the Eilat port (i.e., Israel’s southernmost city) but rather until the Umm Al-Rashrash port (i.e., the Arabic name for Eilat)… We want all this… A [PA] national unity government will happen when all the factions, including Hamas that will participate in it, [will] have to accept the [UN] resolutions of the international legitimacy in accordance with the PLO plan. There are those especially among Hamas who say that [the PLO members] want to recognize Israel. No, Fatah has not recognized Israel, and the factions and political parties do not need to recognize Israel.”

[Official PA TV, Topic of the Day, Oct. 24, 2021]

So if the largest and most dominant member of the PLO does not recognize Israel’s basic right to exist and maintains a goal of destroying Israel, it is clear that Arafat’s letter of recognition of Israel’s right to exist, was merely a sham.

There has never been any real recognition - a fact that Palestinian Media Watch has exposed and documented countless of times over the last few decades, be it exposed in maps that show “Palestine” as including all of Israel or in statements by PA leaders, stating the “Palestine” stretches from “the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River” etc.

So what importance should be attributed to the PLO sabre rattling regarding the revocation of its recognition of Israel’s right to exist?

Wrapped in their own self-importance, the PLO leaders seem to have forgotten that Israel does not need the PLO’s confirmation of its right to exist. Israel’s right to exist is unquestionable.

Meanwhile, the standing of the PLO as “the representative of the Palestinian people” has declined, predominantly for the Palestinians themselves.

In the last general Palestinian elections, held in 2006, Fatah lost its domination of the Palestinian street to Hamas. Hamas' continued popularity, and the acknowledgement that Fatah would again lose the popular vote, was also a decisive factor in the decision of Abbas to cancel the Palestinian general elections he had scheduled for May 2021. 

While Fatah still clutches to the reins of power over the Palestinian Authority, surveys conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research show declining Palestinian support for the PLO as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”. The March 2019 survey showed that only 54% of those surveyed still viewed the PLO as the “sole legitimate representative” of the Palestinians, down from 69% in 2006.

Accordingly, while Israel’s right to exist is beyond doubt, the standing and authority of the PLO as the “representative of the Palestinian people” is highly questionable. It follows therefore, that little weight should be attributed to the repeated threats of an organization that questionably represents the Palestinian people, to the revoke what was always the PLO’s sham recognition of Israel.

Instead of paying too much attention to the PLO declarations, Israel and the international community should be asking themselves, who actually represents the Palestinians? Israel and the International community should also take heed of the fact that Fatah like Hamas promote a desire to destroy Israel, and draw the appropriate conclusions.  

The following is a longer excerpt Al-Ahmad’s statement in October 2021:

PLO Executive Committee member Azzam Al-Ahmad: “If there is no [UN Resolution] 242 (see note below -Ed.) and no two-state solution, we don’t need it. If there is no [UN Resolution] 181 (see note below -Ed.), we don’t need it, we will pull our recognition of them [Israel]. We want a democratic state on all the Palestinian land, on all the historical Palestinian land (i.e., refers to all of Israel together with the PA areas), from the furthest Galilee (i.e., in northern Israel) to the Negev (i.e., in southern Israel), and not until the Eilat port (i.e., Israel’s southernmost city) but rather until the Umm Al-Rashrash port (i.e., the Palestinian Arabic name for Eilat)… We want all this. You want us to live in a democratic state? We are prepared. You want to be apartheid? Currently there is an international change, especially in American society, and especially in the American Jewish society…

A [PA] national unity government will happen when all the factions, including Hamas that will participate in it, [will] have to accept the [UN] resolutions of the international legitimacy in accordance with the PLO plan, and here there are those especially among Hamas who say that [the PLO members] want to recognize Israel. No, Fatah has not recognized Israel, and the factions and political parties do not need to recognize Israel. Recognition is between states and governments. If Israel’s political parties recognize us, we are prepared to recognize in return, to recognize in the same manner, including the Likud [party, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali] Bennett, and extremist [Israeli Minister of Interior Ayelet] Shaked, whom [former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu stands right of her, who said that she wants to cut open the stomachs of the pregnant Palestinian women (sic., Shaked never made any such statement). She must [recognize] but the [Palestinian] factions and parties do not have to recognize.”

[Official PA TV, Topic of the Day, Oct. 24, 2021]

PLO Executive Committee member Azzam Al-Ahmad who spoke on official PA TV also serves as head of the PLO Department of Arab and Parliamentary Affairs, Fatah Central Committee member, Fatah Commissioner of National Relations, and Fatah Commissioner for Relations with Lebanon.

UN Security Council Resolution 242 – The 1967 Six Day War ended with Israel in control of lands formerly under the control of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. UN Security Council Resolution 242 called for “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” and stressed all states’ “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” It also called for freedom of navigation through international waters, and demanded a just resolution to the refugee problem. At the time, those involved in drafting Resolution 242 said that the wording of the clause intentionally called for Israeli withdrawal "from territories" and not “the territories” or “all territories,” because the borders prior to the war – the 1949–1967 armistice lines – were not “secure” borders. For example, British Ambassador to the UN Lord Caradon, sponsor of Resolution 242, explained: "It was not for us to lay down exactly where the border should be. I know the 1967 border very well. It is not a satisfactory border, it is where troops had to stop in 1947 (sic., 1949), just where they happened to be that night, that is not a permanent boundary." US Secretary of State Dean Rusk said Resolution 242 did not say “all territories” because the region needed "a border sensible for both parties." US President Lyndon B. Johnson also noted that returning to the old borders would be "not a prescription for peace, but for renewed hostilities." Many argue that Israel fully fulfilled this clause to withdraw “from territories” when it withdrew from Sinai in 1982, a full 91% of “territories occupied in the recent conflict." The words “Palestine” or “Palestinian” do not appear anywhere in the resolution.

UN Resolution 181 (the UN partition plan for Palestine) was passed by the UN General Assembly in 1947. It called for the partition of the British Mandate of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem as a separate entity under the rule of a special international body. The Arab state was meant to be comprised of the western Galilee, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, and the remaining territory of the Mandate west of the Jordan River would be the state of Israel - Jordan (known at the time as Transjordan) had already been established in what had been the part of the Mandate that was east of the Jordan River. The resolution was accepted by the Jewish Agency for Palestine, but Arab leaders and governments rejected it, and launched a war to destroy Israel.

Palestinian declaration of independence - On Nov. 15, 1988, before the Palestine National Council (PNC), the Palestinian parliament in exile in Algeria, Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Yasser Arafat declared the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Although the borders were not specified in the declaration, it recognized the UN partition plan of 1947, which called for the creation of a Jewish state and an Arab state in the former British Mandate for Palestine.