Palestinian Draft Constitution Would Add a Prime Minister

From Associated Press

A future Palestinian state would be headed by a president, but a prime minister would run the government's day-to-day affairs, and Islam would be the official religion, according to a partial draft constitution released Monday.

The new constitution is a key element of a U.S.-backed peace plan, considered a "road map" to Palestinian statehood by 2005. The draft, made available by Palestinian officials, does not address several key issues, such as borders with Israel and a solution for Palestinian refugees.

The strongest figure in the government would be the president, who would appoint the prime minister and would be the main policymaker. The prime minister would run daily government. The president would be limited to two five-year terms.

Yasser Arafat has served as president of the Palestinian Authority since it was launched in 1994; the system currently has no prime minister. Israel and the U.S. have called for Arafat to be replaced, and Israeli government spokesman Raanan Gissin rejected the draft constitution as an attempt to "give legitimacy to Arafat, to give the impression of reform."

Though Islam would be the official religion, the state would guarantee the sanctity of places of worship and respect other religions, the draft says.

Meanwhile Monday, Israeli commanders briefed reporters on joint U.S.-Israeli maneuvers that began Sunday. The commanders said the maneuvers, involving 600 U.S. troops, will test Israel's defenses against incoming missiles. The military said the drill was planned two years ago. However, sources said the U.S. troops -- who arrived last week -- are to remain in Israel at least until the end of a possible U.S. war with Iraq.

Also Monday, a Jewish settler killed in a Palestinian attack Friday was finally interred after a dispute over where to bury him, during which his activist friends fought with his relatives and at one point snatched the body.

Under Jewish law, the dead are to be buried before nightfall on the day they die. Nathaniel Ozeri's family wanted him interred in Jerusalem, but his friends said he wanted to be buried near his house outside the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba.

As a compromise, he was interred in the West Bank city of Hebron.

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