(photo credit: AP [file])
As is customary in advance of national elections, President Moshe Katsav has begun his rounds of talks with political party leaders.
Katsav has already met with Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and is scheduled to meet this week with Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu and Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz.
The president will meet with leaders of smaller parties during February and March.
Although the role of president is largely ceremonial, one of the significant responsibilities accorded to him is to ask the Knesset member whom he considers to be most capable of forming a government to do so.
Although logic would dictate that such an invitation would be issued to the leader of the party that wins the largest number of seats in the Knesset, the president is not compelled by law to select that person, nor does he have to select the leader of a party. However he does have to select an MK.
Prior to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's bolting from the Likud and his creation of the Kadima Party, there were media reports that Katsav had been approached by Likud movers and shakers to step down from the presidency in order to save the party. Mounting friction within the Likud had threatened the party's continued existence.
Katsav chose to remain in the presidency until the conclusion of his term at the end of July 2007.
Even though he makes many broad-based political statements, Katsav has endeavored to remain apolitical on partisan issues.