There is growing consensus that the time has come for a constitution, although its content is still being debated.
President Moshe Katsav on Thursday received the Institute for Zionist Strategies's proposed text for an Israeli constitution.
Produced in English as well as Hebrew versions, it was much more concise than the close to thirty volumes of material Katsav received in February from MK Michael Eitan (Likud), then-chairman of the Knesset Constitution Law and Justice Committee, or the several documents he has received from the Israel Democracy Institute, which is one of the most ardent advocates for a constitution.
Hebrew University political science professor Abraham Diskin, one of the chief architects of the Institute for Zionist Strategies version, wrote in a preface to the draft that efforts to create a constitution predate the establishment of the state.
Diskin said Thursday that Israel had a fairly well developed system of constitutional arrangements, which, however, were incomplete and uneven. He said ambiguity and disagreement had increased as a result of legislative developments and court rulings on constitutional issues. This situation, he said, underscored the need to pass a constitution as quickly as possible.
While some emphasize the importance of a constitution being acceptable to all sectors of the public, said Diskin, there was considerable doubt as to whether this was possible. Israeli society is too divided, he said.
There were four issues that had to be clearly determined, he said:
â€¢ The basic characteristics and principles of the state.
â€¢ The status of the individual and the citizen, and clear guidelines to determine the relations between the individual and the state's official institutions.
â€¢ The nature of the government and of the governmental authorities acting on behalf of the state, including clear guidelines on the relationship between these institutions, and between them and citizens.
â€¢ Norms that would be binding on the state, particularly those determining the status of the constitution as compared to primary legislation, and those in effect when the actions of the legislature and the executive are reviewed by the judiciary.
There is no such thing as a perfect constitution, said Diskin, who conceded that the Institute for Zionist Strategies draft was also flawed, and could be improved upon, "but at least it's a good first page for the future."
A constitution has been on the national agenda since the dawn of statehood, said institute chairman Israel Harel, "but there was insufficient initiative to push it through."
What was particularly important about the draft, he said, was that it was the result of a nonsectarian endeavor by people from different streams who were united in the belief that Israel should be a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state.
Prof. Ruth Gavison of Hebrew University said a constitution would be beneficial but warned it would not be a panacea. She said the crucial thing about a constitution was that it would identify the character of the state. The arguments of today were not those of the 1950s, she said, when Israelis debated whether society should be socialist or capitalist.
Katsav said it was fortunate a constitution had not been approved in the 1950s, because if it had been, "socialism would have been incorporated in the constitution."
A key issue, said Gavison, was whether Israel was the "state of all her citizens" or a Jewish state. While it is generally accepted that Israel is a democracy, she said, there is concern that not all citizens are treated equally.
Katsav said that if a constitution by consensus was not passed in the near future, it would bode ill for Israel.
A constitution does not require unanimous acceptance, he said. It would be sufficient if it were passed by a large majority, but that majority must include Arabs, haredim and representatives of the Left, said Katsav. They don't all have to accept it, he said, but there must be some from each of these camps.
"If there had been a constitution, the disengagement process would have gone differently," said Katsav. He said a constitution should cover the limits of public protest, the legality of preventing protest under certain circumstances, and the rights, if any, of the IDF to evacuate people from their homes.
Katsav said a constitution has become more important than ever
because Israel had to determine its permanent borders - or at least its eastern border. This fateful decision could well determine Israel's ability to exist as a sovereign state, he said.