GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: The Palestinian National Council voted Wednesday to remove clauses calling for the destruction of Israel from its charter. The 504-54 vote is a major victory for PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, who won clear backing to continue peace negotiations with Israel despite the Israeli's closing of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. TIME's Jamil Hamad reports from the West Bank that anti-Israel sentiment is running high in the wake of Israel's closing of the two Palestinian areas after a string of suicide bombings in February and March. "The economy is in very bad shape because of the sealing of Gaza and the West Bank. The unemployment rate is at 65 percent. Many can't get to jobs in Israel, and people don't have any cash." International relief aid is getting into the sealed areas, but Hamad notes: "It's not a deep-rooted solution, it's only cosmetic." Despite the setbacks, the overwhelming margin of the vote shows that PNC is willing to keep peace negotiation on track. Israel had threatened to scrub May negotiations on the unresolved status of Palestinian refugees, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and jurisdiction of Jerusalem if the PNC did not remove the clauses. PNC inaction might also have dealt a blow to the reelection bid of Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who faces a stiff challenge from Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu in national elections May 29. With the PNC vote, the ball is now in Peres' court. The PLO is hoping Israel will hasten the redeployment of troops in Hebron and ease the closure restrictions on Gaza and the West Bank, but that may not happen until after Israeli elections.