Ma’ariv, by Arik Bender and Yuval Bagno -- Despite the criticism in the Likud and in the opposition, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plan to postpone the election for president has remained at the center of the public agenda. The Yisrael Beiteinu faction even issued a statement yesterday that it was likely to support this plan if it was based on the proposal of its chairman, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, to establish a presidential regime in Israel.
Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon fiercely criticized Yisrael Beiteinu for its support for the initiative and said: “Lieberman is prepared to change the rules of the game while in the middle of the game, in exchange for a dirty political deal. The deal is liable to further strengthen the prime minister’s power relative to the Knesset factions and to increase the danger of the majority’s tyranny and damage to human rights.”
A senior official who is closely associated with Netanyahu confirmed yesterday for the first time that the prime minister plans to postpone the election for president by six months. “True, the heads of the coalition parties have yet to officially support the initiative, but Netanyahu has not yet heard emphatic opposition from them,” he said. “And what is a postponement of half a year compared to ensuring the stability of the government?”
Likud figures believe that Netanyahu wants to achieve one of two goals: the first is to abolish the institution of the president and to establish a presidential regime in which the prime minister is also the ceremonial head of state—a course of action whose chances of success are negligible. The second is to get passed, within half a year, the “largest party” bill, which is also supported by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, stipulating that the largest party forms the government. This is not the situation today, in which the president assigns the task of forming the government to the leader of the party who receives the most recommendations from the MKs.
Some Likud members support Netanyahu’s position, including Coalition Chairman Yariv Levin, who is known to oppose the behavior of outgoing President Shimon Peres. “It’s not certain that the institution of the president should be a burden on the public coffer,” says Levin, “especially since the president should be representative and not come up with original proposals behind the government’s back.”
Among the prominent opponents to Netanyahu’s initiative are Interior Minister Gidon Saar, who was the first among the top Likud members to speak out against postponing the elections for president. Yesterday Saar said that he was also opposed to the largest party bill that Netanyahu is considering as an alternative to abolishing the presidency. Saar is the only senior Likud figure who has openly spoken out against Netanyahu’s initiative. Others say in the closed conversations that “with his attempts to ensure his reign, Netanyahu is willing to sell the Likud, to destroy basic laws and to change the regime.”
Livni announced yesterday that she had been asked to discuss the proposal to postpone the election for president. “I made it clear that such a decision will only be made after it is discussed by the faction,” she said. “I will act based only on relevant and constitutional considerations.” Livni did not say that she was opposed although she did express support for the candidacy of her fellow faction member, Meir Shetrit, to the role of president.
Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid was asked yesterday if he would support postponing the elections, but did not respond. Yesh Atid was supposed to discuss the subject yesterday, but the faction decided to postpone the meeting until next week. Jewish Home Chairman Naftali Bennett also refused to comment publicly on his position. Yitzhak Herzog was also approached and made it clear that he was opposed.
This did not prevent MK Zevulun Kalfa of the Jewish Home from announcing yesterday that he was starting to hold talks with the leaders of the coalition factions to promote a bill that he introduced to abolish the institution of the president. Kalfa tabled his bill at the end of February, and it calls for the president’s ceremonial jobs to be filled by the Foreign Ministry and the Knesset speaker. […]
Netanyahu asked the coalition factions to wait for him to return from Japan on Thursday before making any decisions. But yesterday Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein announced that he would announce the date for holding the election for president by the end of next week. President Shimon Peres was asked about the matter yesterday and made it clear that he had been elected to serve seven years and had no intention of remaining beyond that.
Peres was asked his opinion yesterday about abolishing the institution of presidency and he answered with veiled criticism. “This is an important institution that exists in the majority of democratic countries. If it is decided to abolish it, the Knesset must make the decision.”
Yedioth Ahronoth (p. 4) adds: Three Likud MKs have already expressed sharp and public opposition to Netanyahu’s initiative: Interior Minister Gidon Saar, MK Haim Katz and MK Miri Regev. […] Others in the Likud said: “Rivlin’s possible election is driving Bibi crazy, and he is willing to do anything to prevent that from happening.” […]