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BIBI'S TUNNEL, YASSER'S WAR

12:00 AM, Oct 14, 1996 • By CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER
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When Newt Gingrich shuts down the U.S. government in part because Bill Clinton made him exit by the back door of Air Force One, he is called a cry- baby. He has yet to live down his resulting reputation for pettiness and petulance. And Gingrich, mind you, did not order the Capitol Police to fire on the White House to avenge his dignity. Arafat is allegedly slighted -- and Palestinian apologists find in this a justification for war. First, the War of Jenkins's Ear. Now the War of Arafat's Pride.


II


Missing among all this talk of grievance is any mention of Israeli complaints about Palestinian violations of Oslo. Violations are always understood to mean Israeli violations. Yet in return for the myriad of compromises and concessions, territorial and political, granted by the Israelis, the Palestinians committed themselves to only two: changing their national charter that calls for the destruction of Israel and renouncing violence.


What is the status of these two commitments?


The tortuous saga of the PLO charter is by now almost comical. Arafat first pledged to change it immediately after the Oslo 1 accords were signed in 1993. He did nothing of the sort. Two years later, at the Oslo 2 accords -- which gave him (1) control of Kalkilya, Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Tulkharm (all the West Bank cities save Hebron), (2) broad new powers, and (3) a gradual turning over to him of the vast uninhabited "state" lands of the West Bank -- he sold that rug to Peres a second time. He pledged that now he would really change the charter. Indeed, he would do so within two months of the inauguration of the Palestinian legislative council.


On April 24, as the deadline approached, Arafat convened the Palestinian National Council and claimed that it had changed the charter. The world press, the American government, and indeed Shimon Peres nodded and applauded. Peres, eager to show some tangible Palestinian gesture before the Israeli election, fatuously hailed this as the greatest ideological change in the Middle East in 100 years.


What really happened? The PNC resolution said that the charter was amended, but changed not a single word, promising instead that a committee would return with new wording within six months. It is due two weeks from now. You have not heard from this committee in six months. You will not hear from it in two weeks.


What makes this latest Arafat maneuver so farcical is that Arafat thereby managed to sell Peres the rug for a third time -- again without delivery. In his letter to Rabin of September 9, 1993, Arafat declared that "the PLO affirms that those articles of the Palestinian covenant which deny Israel's right to exist . . . are now inoperative and no longer valid. Consequently, the PLO undertakes to submit to the Palestinian National Council for formal approval the necessary changes in regard to the Palestinian covenant" (my italics).


Thus the declaration of inoperativity already occurred in 1993. Its repetition by the PNC in 1996 was a redundancy. Indeed, it was an evasion of the Palestinians' original commitment to actually change the charter, not just to say they did.


To date, not a single change. Yet even to raise the issue of this fundamental non-compliance appears odd. In the American mind, the charter is considered a solved -- a dead -- issue. So dead that when Hanan Ashrawi makes her daily appearances on American television denouncing Israelis for this or that violation of the Oslo accords, not one American reporter ever asks her to explain why on April 24 in the PNC she voted against revision of the Palestinian charter. She was one of the 54 (vs. 504) voting against this extraordinarily tepid (indeed, essentially meaningless) gesture of compliance with Oslo. First she opposes even the pretense of living up to one of the two major peace commitments the Palestinians undertook. Then she rails about Netanyahu's tardiness on Hebron and some such.


III


But it is the other pledge Arafat made to Rabin in his Sept. 9, 1993, letter that constitutes the gravest breach of Oslo. The change in the charter Arafat merely avoided. The pledge of non-violence, however, he has now brazenly flouted.