. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israel's Labor Drops Rule Against Palestine State

TEL AVIV, Israel -- Israel's governing Labor Party has dropped its long-held opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state, a day after the Palestinians' top body declared that it no longer sought Israel's destruction.

In a show of hands, about 1,000 members of the Labor Party's central committee on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a new platform omitting the once-standard clause ruling out a Palestinian state.

The new platform also abandons another bedrock Labor Party position: that the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967 and annexed in 1981, are essential to Israel's security. The new platform says the strategic plateau, which Syria wants back in exchange for peace, "has political importance.''

Prime Minister Shimon Peres told the delegates that if Labor is re-elected on May 29, "our primary aim in the next four years is to achieve a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.''

"With the Palestinians, we wish to arrive not at yet another interim settlement but a permanent settlement, a fundamental solution ... total elimination of the conflict between us and the Palestinian people.''

While he did not specify whether he now accepted the Palestinians' goal of statehood, Peres stressed that the current autonomy arrangement in the West Bank and Gaza "cannot remain.''

On Wednesday, the Palestine National Council, which for three decades has served as the Palestinians' parliament in exile, voted 504 to 54, with 14 abstentions, to revoke all clauses in the 1964 PLO founding charter that call for the elimination of Israel.

The council decided that all articles of the PLO charter that contradict letters of mutual recognition exchanged by Israel and the PLO in 1993 would be abolished and that work should begin on writing a new charter.

An elated Peres said the vote proved Arafat was a partner for peace. But on Thursday, members of Israel's right-wing opposition criticized the wording to the PNC's decision, noting it used the future tense and was not specific about which clauses were being revoked.

"It's a hoax. They never can be trusted,'' said Benjamin Begin, a leading figure in the opposition Likud Party.

No Palestinian reaction to the Labor Party's decision was immediately available.

Peres said the new platform "gives the government a free hand to negotiate'' a final settlement with Palestinians.

"Party platforms have limited value in the sense that when you draw them up ... you never really know what is doing to happen when you start negotiating,'' Peres added.

Talks on the final status of the West Bank and Gaza are to begin by May 4, and the sides have three years to come up with an agreement. The final status talks are to address the most difficult issues still dividing the two sides, such as the PLO's demand for statehood, final borders and the future of Israeli settlements and the disputed holy city of Jerusalem.

The new platform does maintain some hardline points certain to raise opposition by the Palestinians: It says Jerusalem, including the eastern sector claimed by the Palestinians, will remain united under Israeli rule; it calls for eventual Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank such as the Jordan Valley; and it says that, while no new settlements will be built, most of the existing ones, where 140,000 Israelis live, will remain under Israeli rule.

Columnist Yosef Lapid said the past two days' developments showed that "Peres' vision of a New Middle East is taking shape. ... Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat agree on the establishment of a Palestinian state that recognizes the right of Israel to exist,'' Lapid wrote in the Maariv daily.