President Katsav
Photo: Hagai Aharon
Attorney Libai
Photo: Niv Calderon
27 MKs sign petition to impeach Katsav
MK Zahava Gal-On manages to collect number of signatures required to bring impeachment motion to Knesset floor. President to convene press conference on Wednesday, will announce decision regarding future following indictment charging him of rape

The ball is now in President Moshe Katsav's court, following Attorney General Menachem Mazuz's decision to indict him with rape and other sexual offenses.


Mazuz announced his decision to indict Katsav and charge him with a series of sexual offenses, including rape and breach of trust, on Tuesday afternoon.


Amidst a hailstorm of calls from the whole of the political spectrum demanding his immediate resignation Katsav will convene a press conference at 7:30 pm on Wednesday in his Jerusalem residence where he is expected to announce his decision to temporarily suspend himself.



Should this be the case Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik will assume the president's duties until a permanent replacement is elected, but the Knesset is already rolling with the idea of a possible impeachment should Katsav fail to resign.


MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz) has already started collecting the necessary signatures of 20 Knesset members to bring the impeachment motion to the Knesset floor.


Gal-On has so far managed to sign 27 Knesset members on her petition to impeach Katsav.


"Signing is taking responsibility for the fact that temporary suspension is not enough. Suspension is a disgrace, the ball is now in the Knesset's court," said Gal-On.


MK Menahem Ben-Sasson, chairman of the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, said that his committee will convene on Wednesday to discuss the Basic Law regarding the President of the State. The discussion will focus on temporary cessation of exercise of office, removing the president from his office, and electing a president.


According to Ben-Sasson, the Knesset should be able to initiate a move to suspend the president, and "the requirement of 90 Knesset members for a dismissal should be reconsidered. This requirement was ruled on under different circumstances and a different understanding of the institution of the presidency."


Attorney: Mazuz will overturn decision

The indictment has yet to be filed, and may be dismissed if Mazuz changes his recommendation following the upcoming special hearing intended to give Katsav a final chance to plead his case before the indictment is filed.


Professor David Liba'i, Katsav's lawyer, said Tuesday that he believed Mazuz would overturn the decision, saying the president was a victim of trumped-up charges. However, he added that today could be the president's last day in office.


Liba'i would not confirm that the president would use the conference to announce his resignation. In November, after a petition for his resignation was filed with the High Court, Katsav announced he would resign if indicted.


Knesset divided

The Knesset House Committee, which will be charged with granting the president a temporary suspension should he ask for it, are divided on the matter.


Ynet polled 20 of the 24 committee members, seven of whom say they will vote for granting temporary suspension, five of whom say they will vote for temporary suspension and the beginning of legislative proceedings for the president's impeachment, two say they will vote only for impeachment and six remain undecided.


Should Mazuz decide to file the indictment, pending the court hearing, Katsav will be charged with rape, sexual harassment, obstruction of justice, fraud and breach of trust. The last two charges stem from a different case in which Katsav allegedly paid for private gifts with his public funds.


The president had also been accused of wrongly pardoning prisoners and illegal wiretapping. However, these allegations were dropped due to lack of evidence.


Should Katsav be convicted of rape he could face a maximum 16-year jail sentence. Under Israeli penal law the court could rule to reduce the sentence to four years under "special circumstances."


Attorney Kineret Barashi, who represents A, the woman at the center of the rape charge, expressed her satisfaction with Mazuz's decision, but stressed that for her client this is only one step towards justice.


The president has yet to comment on the pending indictment, through his defense team held a press conference Tuesday evening in an attempt to stem the flow of criticism against the president. According to his attorneys, the president is set to seek temporary suspension and will soon leave his public residence.


Professor David Libai, one of Katsav's lawyers, said Tuesday that he believed Mazuz would overturn the decision after considering new evidence that will be presented at the court hearing.


"The president is confident that it will become clear that he is the victim of trumped-up charges and a failed attempt to oust him from his position and he will fight to prove his innocence."


Olmert sticking with Peres, rumors sticking to Itzik

News of the indictment not only kicked off what promises to be a lengthy legal process, but also the race for the presidency. And as a catalyst to demonstrate just how jumpy the Knesset halls have been for the past 24 hours, Tuesday night was rife with rumors of secret meetings between Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik (Kadima) and several leading political figures.


According to the rumors (which for the moment are only just that) Itzik pleaded with several members of the Knesset House Committee to grant the president a period of temporary suspension. Why? Itzik plans to substitute for Katsav over as long a period as possible in the hopes to increase her chances of being permanently elected president.


Itzik, officially at least, has backed fellow Kadima member Vice Premier Shimon Peres' expected bid for president.


Perhaps the most important figure in the upcoming race is Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has repeatedly voiced his support for Peres when and if Katsav resigns.


Olmert has also reiterated that he believes that the Knesset should hold an open vote on the matter, a move which will likely increase Peres' chances to be elected. Olmert received word of Mazuz's decision from the Justice Ministry while in his office where, according to his aides, he was occupied with urgent business that left him no time to deal with the Katsav affair that evening.


Olmert had already sought on Monday to promote the bill requiring an open vote for the Knesset's election

of the next president as part of his efforts to secure Peres' candidacy. But Coalition Chairman and Kadima party leader MK Avigdor Itzchaky cancelled the weekly party meeting wherein the members were to discuss the promotion of the bill.


Olmert was furious about Itzchaky's decision, but for now remains powerless to act and for the time being will have to bide him time until the next Kadima meeting – assuming of course that the coalition and members of Kadima won't attempt to thwart the bill proposal.


Attila Somfalvi, Ronny Sofer and Aviram Zino contributed to this report


First published: 01.24.07, 09:57
 new comment
See all talkbacks "27 MKs sign petition to impeach Katsav"
This will delete your current comment