Middle East examined

By Tim Michaels

The Center for Constitutional Comparison will sponsor “Constitution Building in Israel and Palestine,” a conference to explore several aspects of constitutional law in the Middle East. The three-day event, which will be held at the Law School this weekend, features notable experts and academics from the Middle East, South Africa, Canada, Australia, America, and Germany.

The conference will be the largest event ever held by the Center, which was established in 2002 as an agency dedicated to the study of the creation, definition and implementation of constitutional rights both domestically and abroad.  The conference will focus on human rights issues and constitution-making in the Middle East.

“The Center aims to foster new comparative approaches to issues of human rights and their implementation,” said Martha Nussbaum, a professor in the law school and co-organizer of the event. “The conference fosters these aims with a focus on one particular region.”

Throughout the weekend, panelists, guest speakers, and University faculty will participate in discussions comparing Israel’s Supreme Court and the draft constitution being distributed in the Palestinian territories.

Speakers will address a wide range of concerns facing the constitution-making process in the Middle East, including the nature and limits of liberty and free expression, social, and economic rights, and discrimination. The conference does not seek to discuss specifically current conflicts in the Middle East, but hopes to stimulate discussion over the constitution-making process occurring among both Israelis and Palestinians.

“We do hope that by bringing people together to discuss something else, we can foster an atmosphere of dialogue and cooperation,” Nussbaum said.

As president of the largest Palestinian university in Jerusalem, Nusseibeh has addressed a broad range of issues pertaining to the debate, such as constitutional rights.

The initiative for the conference began when Nusseibeh visited the Center for Constitutional Comparison in October of 2002.

“We felt that a conference discussing themes of human rights and constitution-making, and the role of a written constitution in promoting human rights could provide a valuable perspective on current events,” Nussbaum said.

On Saturday the conference will open with a panel discussion on constitutionalism and equality. The panelists include Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, and former professor of history and Near Eastern languages and civilizations in the College. It will also include Gary Jacobson, Woodrow Wilson Professor of Political Science at Williams College.

Brown University history professor Gordon Wood will deliver Saturday’s keynote address. “Any discussion by experts on comparative constitutionalism is healthy and beneficial.  My perspective is that of an 18th century historian,” Wood said.

On Sunday, Justices Z.M. Yacoob of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and Justice Michael Kirby of the High Court of Australia will participate in the panel discussions on comparative constitutions in other regions of the world.

Charles Taylor, a well-known Canadian politician and professor of law at Northwestern University, will join the panel discussion, along with Ulrich Preuss, professor of law and politics at the Free University Berlin.

“We want to compare constitutionalism in two complex societies with different problems, and neither of which is the usual case for studies of comparative constitutionalism,” said Cass Sunstein, a professor in the Law School and co-organizer of the event.

In the future, the Center hopes to sponsor conferences that address social issues affecting the implementation of constitutional rights.

The event will be held in Room II of the Law School, and is being co-sponsored by the Center for International Studies Norman Wait Harris Memorial Foundation Fund. It is free and open to the public.

The event will begin on Friday afternoon at 1:30 p.m.. Sari Nusseibeh, the president of Al-Quds University and Palestinian envoy in East Jerusalem, will deliver the keynote address. Nusseibeh, who was born in the Palestinian territories, has been highly active in the advancement of peace negotiations in the Middle East.