PLO’s Charter Is Out of Date, Arafat Declares

Times Staff Writer

Responding to pressure from French President Francois Mitterrand, Yasser Arafat on Tuesday declared the 1964 Charter of the Palestine Liberation Organization to be caduc --a French word that means “null and void” or “outdated.”

In an unprecedented “official” meeting with the PLO leader at the presidential Elysee Palace, Mitterrand urged Arafat to clarify the PLO position on the charter.

Major Factor

Last November, the Palestine National Council voted to recognize Israel’s right to exist and to renounce terrorism. However, failure by the PLO to reject the charter has been a major factor in the Israeli government’s reluctance to recognize the PLO as an official representative of the Palestinian people.

Article 15 of the charter states: “The liberation of Palestine is a national duty . . . is a national duty to repulse the Zionist, imperialist invasion from the great Arab homeland and to eliminate the Zionist presence from Palestine.”


Technically, the charter remains in effect unless it is annulled by a two-thirds vote of the Palestine National Council, the PLO’s parliament in exile.

Appearing on a news telecast Tuesday night, Arafat, speaking in Arabic through a French translator, was asked about the charter by French newsman Patrick Poivre d’Avor. The Palestinian leader appeared to be prepared for the question.

“Regarding the charter,” he said, “there is a word in French.”

An off-camera voice then prompted the PLO leader with the word caduc.

“C’est caduc, “ said Arafat in French.

Harrap’s New Shorter French and English Dictionary (1982) gives several definitions for the word, including decaying; crumbling (of buildings); decrepit; out of date and old-fashioned . Used as a legal term, the word can mean null and void or lapsed .

Arafat does not speak French and may not, therefore, have been fully aware of some of the subtleties of the word, although it was obvious it had been discussed with French-speaking aides before the broadcast.

In an earlier meeting with the PLO chairman, Socialist Party leader Pierre Mauroy said Arafat told him that the charter had been “overtaken by events” (depassee de fait) because of the Palestine National Council decision to recognize Israel under terms of Resolution 242 of the U.N. Security Council.

Semantics a Factor

The Mauroy conversation indicates that Arafat may have been leaning more on the “out of date” definition of the French word rather than the stronger “null and void.” Once again, as in December when U.S. officials entered complicated exchanges with Arafat over his public “renunciation” of terrorism, semantics had become a factor in dealings with the Palestinian leader.


Elysee spokesman Hubert Vedrine, describing how the issue came up, said “Mitterrand noted that the continuation in force of the charter of the PLO, adopted in 1964, was contrary to important points of the political program adopted by the Palestine National Council in Algiers on Nov. 15, 1988, and that, in his eyes, things should be made clear.”

Before the live television news broadcast, the first day of a two-day Arafat visit had shown little hint of progress.

“The talks were positive, warm and constructive,” said a Palestinian leader close to Arafat. “All substantive issues were discussed.”

Tuesday was marked by demonstrations both for and against the Arafat visit. Shopkeepers in the capital’s predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Sentier set off burglar alarms and sirens in the morning to protest his arrival.

In the afternoon, a crowd of chanting demonstrators estimated by police at about 6,000 persons gathered outside a synagogue on Rue Copernic, site of an October, 1980, terrorist bombing in which four people were killed and nine wounded, to protest the visit. At about the same time, about 3,000 pro-Arafat demonstrators marched to the Institute of the Arab World complex where the PLO leader was hosting a large dinner Tuesday night.

France has both the largest Jewish and the largest Arab population in Europe. A Harris poll of what was described as a representative sample of the estimated 600,000 Jews living in France, published Tuesday in the newspaper Quotidien, showed 51% in favor of the Arafat visit and 34% opposed.


More than 3,000 police were employed as special security Tuesday. Arafat traveled in the city in a bullet-proof green sedan that carried a Palestinian flag. Mitterrand, who has been severely criticized by the right-wing opposition for his invitation to the Palestinian leader, chose not to be photographed being greeted by Arafat in his characteristic embrace.

Spokesmen for both Mitterrand and Arafat said the two men discussed in detail Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s proposal to hold elections in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip for representatives to negotiate with the Israelis. The proposals have so far been rejected by the Palestinian leadership unless they are supervised by an independent international agency such as a U.N. peacekeeping force.

According to sources in the French Foreign Ministry, Mitterrand hopes to carry some news of compromise on the part of the Palestinians to President Bush when they meet May 20 in the United States. The Mitterrand visit will come at the same time as visits to the United States by Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Moshe Arens.