Acting Supreme Court Justice David Cheshin on Sunday gave the state one week to reply to a petition by attorney Yossi Fuchs calling on President Moshe Katsav to resign or suspend himself following the police recommendation to indict him on charges including rape.
The petition was originally submitted on October 15 against Katsav, but afterwards, Fuchs also asked the court to include Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz as a respondent.
Fuchs wants to force Mazuz to take a public position on the question after Ma'ariv reported last week that the attorney-general told reporters Katsav should resign to save the country any further embarrassment.
Mazuz denied the report. He said he had no power to give orders to the president and he was not ready to express his opinion as to what Katsav ought to do for the time being.
Fuchs wrote that in taking the oath of office when he assumed the post of president, Katsav had promised to "keep faith with the State of Israel and its laws and to faithfully discharge his responsibilities as president of the state."
Now, Fuchs continued, "the president has stopped enjoying the confidence of the public" because his integrity is in question.
Fuchs charged that Katsav was "burying his head in the sand and totally ignoring his complicated situation." And while "his legal and political saga continued, the simple folk find themselves embarrassed, not to say suppressing their anger, over the fact that [he] holds on to the seat of power and declares that he has no intention of resigning or even suspending himself. The public, in effect, is held hostage by [Katsav] and can do nothing but petition the court."
Fuchs argued that the court has ruled that even though the law does not say so, a minister, because of the importance of his office, must resign if he is indicted for a crime involving moral turpitude. If that is true of a minister, the court should hold the president to an even higher standard.
Cheshin's order to the state to respond to the petition is routine. The High Court of Justice almost never rejects a petition out of hand. The real test of whether the court believes there is legal substance to a petition is if it hands down a show-cause order, thereby making clear that it takes the petitioner's arguments seriously.
According to the Basic Law: Government, which is the only law that deals with the subject, a president will leave office in the middle of his term only if he resigns or if a majority of 80 MKs dismisses him. The law does not oblige the president to resign under any circumstances. However, the president, as a public official, is obliged to act reasonably.
The court will have to decide whether in the current circumstances the president is acting reasonably if he does not resign and may intervene if it decides that he is not.