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Palestine National Covenant (1964)


a 1964 document adopted by the palestine liberation organization.

The Palestine National Covenant was adopted by the Palestine National Council at its first meeting (MayJune 1964) after being drafted by a special charter committee. The covenant reflected the Arab political mood of the time and the political mentality of its framers, who were, on the whole, notables selected from among Palestinian public officials, professionals, and businessmen. Five interrelated ideas constitute the thrust of the covenant. First, it emphasized the total liberation of Palestine, which in effect meant the dismantling of Israel. The concept of liberation recurs sixteen times in the twenty-nine articles of the covenant; all other concepts are subordinate to it. This concept encompasses Arab nationalism, Islam, and culture.

Second, and connected with liberation, came the concept of self-determination. However, it is not clearly articulated whether, after liberation, the Palestinians would exercise self-determination within the context of an independent Palestinian state or a Palestine that is united with one or more Arab states (Articles 4 and 10). The word "state" is absent from the covenant, but the tone of the articles and the political persuasion of the majority of the members of the charter committee suggest that preference was given to a liberated Palestine that would be united to a projected unitary Arab nation.

Third, the covenant offered a definition of who was a Palestinian and whether this definition applied to Jews. In an attempt to emphasize the indissoluble link between Palestinians and their homeland, Palestinians are defined as the Arab nationals who "resided normally in Palestine until 1947," that is until the start of the Palestinian exodus following the United Nations partition resolution of November 1947. In a supplementary article the covenant stipulated that the "Jews who are of Palestinian origin will be considered Palestinians if they are willing to live loyally and peacefully in Palestine" (Article 7).

Fourth, the covenant sanctioned the status quo that existed in the West Bank (under Jordanian control) and Gaza Strip (under Egyptian control) by stipulating that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) would not exercise any sovereignty over those areas (Article 24). At the time, the PLO leadership adopted this position because it lacked the desire and the ability to challenge the system of those Arab states whose political prescriptions rested more on perpetuating the status quo than on disrupting it. Moreover, the principle of territorial sovereignty was overshadowed by the dream of Arab unity, which gripped the imagination of the Palestinian and Arab masses. This explains why Article 16 vaguely linked "national sovereignty" to the abstract idea of "national freedom."

Fifth, the charter did not clearly articulate the means by which the goal of liberation should be achieved. Armed struggle and revolution, both being principles that occupied a central position in the ideology of most national liberation movements, had no place in the covenant. Given the mood of the time, it is not surprising that the framers of the covenant prescribed Arab unity as the principle instrument for liberation.

This 1964 covenant was amended in July 1968 as the Palestine National Charter, and the amended version itself was superseded by subsequent Palestine National Council decisions.

see also palestine liberation organization (plo); palestine national charter (1968); palestine national council.


Harkabi, Y. The Palestinian Covenant and Its Meaning. London: Vallentine, Mitchell, 1979.

muhammad muslih

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