President Shimon Peres’s announcement to reporters who accompanied him to Mexico over the weekend that he would not cooperate with efforts to extend his tenure informally began the election to replace him when his term ends July 15.
Peres said in the interviews that he intended to honor the law limiting him to one seven-year term. He said that politicians need to know the right time to leave.
Nevertheless, sources in the Knesset said they had been approached in recent months by Peres’s associates who actively sought to change the law and lengthen a president’s term to the 10-year term of the chief rabbis. They said that only when it became clear that such an effort would fail did Peres accept that he would leave office in seven and a half months.
The president is elected in a secret-ballot vote by the Knesset’s 120 members. A date for the election has not been set yet, but it is expected to take place in the month following the Knesset’s return from its spring recess on May 12.
While no candidate has formally announced his candidacy, Likud MK Reuven Rivlin, who lost to Peres in 2007, has never stopped campaigning for the post. Rivlin said he appreciated Peres’s decision to announce that he is not seeking to extend his tenure.
“Peres was right to say he will obey the law,” Rivlin said. “He will be remembered as one of the best, more powerful and more influential presidents we have had. I am looking forward to continuing his tradition.”
Rivlin claims the respect of all MKs and support of the majority of Likud legislators, even though he does not have the backing of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The prime minister has yet to find a candidate to support, and his decision could carry weight in the race.
“People should vote for me as a veteran democrat who respects democracy and can represent the democracy of Israel better than anyone else,” Rivlin said.
The only other candidate willing to admit at this stage that he intends to run is Meir Sheetrit of Hatnua. He said he has been meeting with MKs to sound out his chances of victory.
First elected to the Knesset in 1981, Sheetrit would bring to the presidency 40 years of public service as a mayor, minister with several portfolios, MK and Jewish Agency treasurer. He said he was proud that he passed the law that limited a president to one term.
“The law prevents a president from having to play politics,” he said.
Another likely candidate is former Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, who served as interim president for seven months when former president Moshe Katsav suspended himself to fight his legal battles. Itzik has not yet decided whether to run.
But MKs are saying that she would make a good president because she is not seen as right-wing or left-wing, has friends in all the parties, and is the only potential candidate with presidential experience.
There are also MKs saying that the time has come for Israel to have its first female president, especially when polls show that the top candidate for president of the United States is former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Labor MK Binyamin Ben- Eliezer is said to be considering running. But the spokesman he hired to handle his presidential run, Nadav Gal-On, said Ben- Eliezer “listens to the public and hears the the many requests made for him to run, but it is too soon to deal with the issue of the presidency, and when we have something to update we will.
Haaretz raised the prospect of Negev and Galilee Development Minister Silvan Shalom seeking the post over the weekend. His associates denied the report.
“It is not true that he is considering running,” a source close to Shalom said. “He has received many requests from people to run, but it is not happening.”