PM Vows: Constitution by Consensus

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday said something much more pretentious than his announcement about intending to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. Olmert announced at the opening of the Knesset's winter session that he was going to bring a proposed constitution to the Knesset.

He emphasized that this would be a "constitution by consensus."

"For 60 years we have had no constitution, only a patchwork of basic laws and many holes," Olmert said.

A constitution would be the greatest gift the Knesset could give the state on its 60th anniversary celebrations, he said.

Haaretz yesterday reported that Constitution Committee chairman Menachem Ben Sasson said he would speed up the constitution debates from four to ten weekly hours. He also said he would raise sensitive issues like rights, including the equality principle, for debate. Reaching an agreement with the ultra-Orthodox factions about the right to equality will make an agreement with the Palestinians about the right of return look like child's play.

Olmert promised at Kadima's faction meeting yesterday to bring a package of changes in the government system to the vote. "We don't want a revolution," he said. "The government system in Israel does not ensure stability and governability. We want to improve it."

One improvement was already achieved yesterday when Kadima faction appointed MK Eli Aflalo coalition chairman after six months with no chair.

The peace process

Speaking about his talks with Abbas, Olmert said "there is no agreement between us, nothing has been given, taken or promised. But we've established an air of personal trust, a mutual willingness to listen to the plights, grievances, suspicions and needs that each side has been carrying as a nation for many generations."

Indeed, a pastoral picture. No wonder Yuval Steinitz (Likud) suggested the two eat pistachio nuts together and Limor Livnat demanded to know what they were really saying, between chatting about plights and grievances, about the Temple Mount.

Olmert said the peace process was not a one-man move but required the participation of all the government's components and taking into consideration the positions of the various cabinet members and their "special sensibilities."

However, he dwelled on one specific member's sensibility. "The attempts that other leaders in different political circumstances made at other times do not always make it easy to go forward. The feeling of failure that [some people] experienced while trying to take large brave steps forward, occasionally hinders their freedom of movement today. That, too, doesn't make things any easier."

Ehud Barak grinned broadly.

The Iranian threat

President Shimon Peres replied to Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his speech. The President's Residence translated his speech into Farsi and distributed it to Internet sites in that language. Like Ahmadinejad, Peres made extensive use of Holocaust imagery. "Regrettably some people say we should conduct a dialogue even with such a tyrannical regime. Chamberlain thought so, too, when he flew to negotiate with Hitler," he said.

The remedy for the many Chamberlains whom the Iranian president met in the United States is "sooner or later a new Churchill or a collective Churchill will rise to save the world before it's too late."

Mazal Mualem adds: Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu told the Likud faction that "it will not be easy or simple to topple the government, but even if we don't succeed, it will fall in the next session." Likud members said that although Olmert's government was at present stable, the final Winograd report could lead to Labor's quitting the coalition.