- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 4, 2003

GAZA, Jan. 4 (UPI) — The Palestinian Authority's minister of planning, Nabil Shaath, announced Saturday that the Palestinian Constitution of an envisioned Palestinian state would be drafted soon.

Shaath, who heads the Palestinian committee to form the Constitution, said the panel is working on making the final touches on the draft and legislators may discuss it as soon as Thursday.

The draft Constitution will include 220 provisions regarding political, economic and social aspects of a Palestinian state, he said, adding that the committee is intensively working on two major provisions related to state borders and the question of the Palestinian refugees.

Another major provision is considering Jerusalem the capital of the Palestinian

state, he said.

"This Palestinian Constitution is based to a great extent on the major Palestinian system or law," Shaath told Al Ayyam, a daily newspaper based in Ramallah, location of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's West Bank headquarters. "It will be the best Constitution among all other Arab countries' Constitutions."

The Palestinian Constitution is part of the amended U.S.-backed road map for a peace plan. It calls for reforms and the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005.

"Provisions related to freedoms, separation between the authorities, the rule of law, economic system, general duties and women's rights are all included in the new Constitution," said Shaath. Among other provisions are checks to prevent misuse of authority by officials, by political groups and by individuals.

Shaath said that before approving the constitution, it would go through a Palestinian public referendum, after which it would accepted by the Palestinian political groups.

"I would expect that the referendum to be held together with the Palestinian presidential and parliamentarian elections," said Shaath, adding that the constitution would be in a separate paper. Elections for Palestinian leadership were originally scheduled for January but have been postposed because the continuing Israeli occupation would make voting difficult or impossible, according to the Palestinian Authority.

The draft Constitution is to be discussed by the Palestinian Central Council, a 120-member body within the Palestine Liberation Organization that is scheduled to meet Thursday, Shaath said.

He also noted that a Palestinian delegation expecting to head soon for senior-level talks in London would carry a copy of the Constitution for Prime Minister Tony Blair.

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