Consensus on constitution infrastructure reached

The infrastructure for Israel's written constitution has been completed. It now remains for the next Knesset to examine all the issues and to reach a decision, chairman of the Knesset Constitution and Law Committee Michael Eitan told President Moshe Katsav on Thursday. Were it not for the dissolution of the Knesset, said Eitan, the committee would have been able to take its work a step further towards advancing the adoption of a constitution that will include the existing 11 basic laws. The work is the outcome of 87 meetings over three years in which the committee consulted with legal experts and representatives of different sectors of the population to determine the most important issues and to define the areas of consensus and dispute. Eitan was reasonably confident that now that all the groundwork has been prepared, the Knesset will be in a position to propose a bill for the adoption of the constitution, the need for which was agreed upon in principle by the first Knesset in 1950. The difficulty was in reaching consensus over issues such as the character of the state, with Arabs finding it problematic to accept a Jewish democratic state; and the separation of religion and state, because the haredim are afraid that this would destroy the Jewish identity of the state. Shas MK Nissim Ze'ev called for the establishment of a constitutional court, because in his view the rulings of the Supreme Court "reflect the ideologies of the judges." While supporting the concept of a constitution, Ze'ev had doubts about its effectiveness. If there had been a constitution, said Katsav, many of the difficulties encountered in Israeli life might have been averted. He cited the protracted public debate over whether there should have been a referendum over unilateral disengagement from Gaza. With a constitution in place, the referendum would not have come up for discussion, he said. A constitution would also pave the way for decisions which have been held in abeyance, such as the final determination of Israel's borders, he suggested. Katsav was also convinced that gaps between the religious and secular sectors of the population would be narrowed if there was a constitution, because the secular would feel secure in the knowledge that they would not be subjected to religious coercion and the religious would feel equally secure that the Jewish identity of the state was not imperiled. What Katsav would like to see spelled out in the constitution is the preservation of human dignity. "When poverty is rife," he said, "human dignity is often harmed. There must be some means of guaranteeing people a decent income." The material presented to Katsav will be made available on the Internet in Hebrew and English on Tu Bishvat (February 13), which is the Knesset's official birthday. The Web site is