Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) – The new Palestinian Constitution calls for a state under Islamic law and not a democratic state with human rights or civil liberties, according to a report in an Israeli newspaper.
The constitution is considered one among many reforms necessary for an overhaul of the Palestinian Authority, which could help to put the Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on its feet in the Middle East.
The international community is awaiting the installation of newly appointed Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Abu Mazen’s cabinet. Washington has pledged to publish the “road map” to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and establish a Palestinian state.
But the constitution as it stands now would cause problems for both Israel and the Palestinians, sources on both sides said.
The 43-page document is currently in Arabic only and has not been published yet. But a copy of it was obtained this week by the Israel Resource News Agency, said a report in the Hebrew paper Makor Rishon.
According to the report, the document was finalized and dated March 26, and was funded by the Ford Foundation in the framework of PA reforms.
Until now, only a three-page summary of the constitution has been published in English, which describes the document as an “important step towards a stable authority.”
Among the provisions in the constitution are for Islam to be the state religion, with no juridical rights for other religions and it guarantees the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
“All aspects of Palestinian state law [are] to be subservient to fundamental Islamic law, modeled on Saudi Arabia law,” writes David Bedein, bureau chief of the Israel Resource News Agency in a translation of the article.
Saudi Arabia has a poor human rights record on religious issues. Three years ago, the State Department’s report on International Religious Freedom said, “Saudi Arabia is an Islamic monarchy without constitutional protection for freedom of religion, and such protection does not exist in practice.”
Bedein added: “No other religion except for Islam is to have juridical status. All religious schools and religious institutions of Christianity and other religions are under the supervision of Islamic Law.”
“The PLO concept of a ‘democratic secular state’ appears nowhere in the document,” Bedein wrote.
“Sources in the Vatican have expressed their deep concern about the prospect that Christian schools and Christian institutions that would be thrown under the jurisdiction and arbitrary control of a Moslem authority.
“There is no system of human rights or civil liberties mentioned anywhere in the Palestinian state constitution,” he said.
Another provision protected in the constitution is the “right of return to homes from 1948,” i.e. the right of millions of Palestinians – refugees and their descendants – to return to within the 1948 borders of Israel.
According to Bedein, U.S. and Israeli governments both have copies of the document but have not translated it and shared it with either Congress or the Israeli Knesset.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s spokesman Ra’anan Gissin downplayed the significance of the document, calling it a “draft” only and saying that it was “not surprising.”
“Their document is no different than the Iraqi Constitution, the Iranian Constitution, the Syrian Constitution – with the fulfillment of their goals and aspirations [being] the destruction or dismantling of the State of Israel,” Gissin told CNSNews.com.
He argued that it was not even necessary to read the document rather all that was needed was to listen to the PA television or radio in order to know what the provisions would be in their constitution.
Gissin said the constitution was not a significant problem at this stage because what it is a detail that will be worked out when Israel and the Palestinians are closer to approaching the fulfillment of President Bush’s vision of two states living peacefully side-by-side.
Nevertheless, he added, Israel would never sign a treaty with a state that called for its demise.
“Don’t have any illusion that Israel will sign a peace treaty… with an authority that [endorses a document that] calls for its destruction,” Gissin said.
The Palestinians will have to give up the “right of return,” Gissin added, because it is “tantamount to the destruction of the state of Israel.”
Israelis across the political spectrum agree that the so-called “right of return” would quickly bring about the demise of the Jewish state demographically.
Palestinian analyst, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, who heads an independent civil reform movement in the PA, said the constitution is also problematic for the Palestinians but for different reasons.
“Islam is the main source of legislation [and] the official religion. I think it should be changed,” Barghouti said. “The constitution needs work to be democratized.”
“The mechanism for framing the constitution is not clear,” he said.
According to Barghouti, there are members in the constitutional committee that have not even worked on it.
He added that there would be a presentation from the civil society to the government soon calling for a “complete re-evaluation of the constitution.””
This piece ran in the April 16th 2003 issue of the CNS news service at www.cnsnews.com