No Nighttime Arrests

Their elections were canceled but the Palestinians went ahead and drafted laws for their state.

The Palestinian public and its leadership are resigned to the chilling prognosis, as far as they are concerned that the elections this week in Israel will leave Ariel Sharon in the Prime Minister's office. "If [Israel] elects the right-wing parties, then they have opted for continuation of the conflict, and if they vote the right wing out, then their message is clearly for peace," said the Jerusalem Times editorial this weekend, adding, "Just listen to Ariel Sharon speak to understand that this man has no peace plan in mind whatsoever - [proposing] the most ridiculous ideas for a Palestinian state suggesting that if Yasser Arafat goes then it would be possible to make peace with the Palestinians knowing very well that there is not a single Palestinian who is willing to accept Sharon's conditions for a state."

The Palestinians are not pinning much hope on the idea that post-election (and post-Iraq war) period will bring American and European efforts to look for a solution to the local conflict.

"The U.S. and Israeli language offers nothing new to the Palestinian and Arab people. We have been hearing it for decades and yet nothing happens. We have been promised salvation since the Arabs joined the British against the Ottomans. Both the U.S. and Israel assume that the Arabs are so stupid that they can be easily fooled with pleasing words. The truth is the Arabs have been duped so far. So are we going to see a real Arab awakening before it is too late?"

The Palestinian frustration with the expected results of the elections only increases in light of the fact that they were not allowed to hold their own elections for Palestinian institutions in the West Bank and Gaza. The elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council and the presidency of the Palestinian Authority were supposed to take place last week, on January 20, but they were postponed due to the renewed Israeli occupation of the West Bank's cities. A year ago, Arafat and his people were not enthusiastic about the idea of new elections for the PA, but when the pressure for reforms in the PA grew, the leadership decided to conduct them and began preparing for them.

What happened instead now looks like a bad joke to the Palestinians: Israel was not planning elections at this time, but it is now going to the polls, while the Palestinians prepared for elections and they were not allowed to conduct them.

While the plans were underway for a Palestinian vote, the PA established a committee headed by cabinet minister Nabil Sha'ath to prepare a draft constitution for a Palestinian state. Many of the 229 articles of that draft were published last week and they are evidence of the type of state the Palestinians want to establish. It is defined as a republic, with a presidential-parliamentary democracy. "Arabic will be the official language of the State of Palestine and the religion of Islam will be the official language," says Article 6.

"Monotheistic religions will be respected and the state will guarantee freedom of worship."

The next article states, "The sharia (Islamic religious law) will be the primary source of legislation."

These articles are formulated in language similar to that of many Arab states where there is no separation of religion and state. Only Turkey, of all the Middle East states, including Israel, has a clear separation of religion and state.

The Palestinian parliament, says the constitution, will have 150 members elected directly from various districts of the state. The draft proposes that alongside the parliament, a representative body for Palestinians in the diaspora be established, to give them a voice. Elections will be held once every five years and the parliament will be in East Jerusalem, the putative capital of the state.

The president will elected directly by popular vote and will also serve a five-year term, with an option to run for a second term. But the president cannot serve more than 10 years.

The president appoints a prime minister and together they head the executive branch of the state, which will be separate from the legislative and judicial branches. The president will also be commander in chief of the army and represent the state overseas. He will be required to provide a statement of all his or her personal assets as well as the assets of his direct relatives, which will be kept secret in the hands of the constitutional court. It will be only opened on orders of the court upon the request of the parliament.

The president will not be able to disperse parliament, but he will have the authority to conduct referendums and no-confidence motions will be possible in the parliament. If a referendum approves a proposal to disperse parliament, the president must conduct new elections within 30 days.

The draft includes many articles relating to civil rights. There is a prohibition on expelling Palestinians or extraditing them unless there is an extradition treaty with the state to which they would be sent. Arrests, searches or limitations on the freedom of movement of citizens are prohibited without judicial process, and of course every defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty. "Searches of citizens' homes will only be conducted in the daylight hours and with a judicial order," says Article 24.

Several proposals focus on the borders of the state. The first version is that "the state of Palestine will be free and sovereign a single entity, in borders that receive international recognition and defined according to United Nations decisions."

A second version says, "The state's borders will be defined by the Palestinian people and international law, and its territory will be the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, on the lines that existed before the Israeli invasion of 1967. These are non-negotiable borders and the Palestinian state will do everything to attain these borders through the use of all the means anchored in international law and UN decisions." A third proposal is not to make any mention now of the border issue, since most state constitutions don't mention the country's borders. However, the draft constitution refers several times to East Jerusalem as the capital of the country.

An important article refers to the right of return of the Palestinian refugees and the right to compensation for the property lost and suffering they experienced as refugees. "The State of Palestine will monitor the fulfillment of these rights through negotiations and the use of all the means provided by international law," says the article.

The draft constitution did not inspire much excitement in the Palestinian street, which seems much more curious about the outcome of the Israeli elections and the various campaign scandals . There is also much more interest in the preparations for war in Iraq. These are practical issues for the Palestinians, not like the theory-only Palestinian elections and constitution for its state.