(photo credit: AP [file])
Politicians from across the political spectrum slammed President Moshe Katsav on Wednesday for criticizing the disengagement and realignment plans in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, but other politicians said they agreed.
In the interview, sections of which appeared in Wednesday's Post and all of which will run in Friday's newspaper, Katsav said that the government had made a mistake by receiving nothing in return for concessions to the Palestinians. He said that the disengagement from Gaza should have been coordinated with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and that a unilateral realignment in the West Bank would have no diplomatic value.
Many of Katsav's former colleagues in the Knesset said his criticism was unbecoming for a president and suggested that the statements indicated that he intended to return to Likud Party politics.
"I was surprised to hear the president's criticism of the prime minister," said Science and Technology Minister Ophir Paz-Pines of Labor. "Some things should be said one-on-one and not publicly, especially during a military conflict that requires national unity. His criticism may be legitimate and to the point, but it could be misinterpreted in the PA and abroad."
MK Ya'acov Edri of Kadima, the liaison between the government and the Knesset, said, "The president had a right to give his opinion, but disengagement passed democratically and it obligates us all."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman released a statement saying that, out of respect for the president, "we have no interest in debating Mr. Katsav on political issues."
Another official in the Prime Minister's Office said he did not see Katsav's comments as criticism against Olmert. "In principle, Katsav is right," the official said. "We wanted to coordinate the disengagement but the Palestinians rejected everything but military coordination during the withdrawal itself."
National Union chairman Benny Elon praised Katsav. "The president traditionally doesn't interfere, but he had no choice in this case but to scream because the reality is so extreme," Elon said. "Everyone, even if they are on the Left, has to admit that the disengagement was a mistake. If they don't, it shows that they care less about the country than they do about their own fears of admitting that they were wrong."
Meretz MK Avshalom Vilan accused Katsav of restoring the political activism to the presidency for which his predecessor, Ezer Weizman, was often criticized.
"It reeks of Likud politics," Vilan said. "The president should not behave politically. The Ezer Weizman model is not right. Katsav had been careful to be statesmanlike until now. I hope that the Likud primaries have not clouded his judgment."
A date has not been set for the next Likud leadership race, but it is expected to be held shortly after Katsav ends his term as president next July. If he runs, he would join a crowded field that would likely include Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, MK Silvan Shalom and possibly two other Likud MKs.
Netanyahu and Shalom said they would welcome Katsav back to Likud politics, but a Netanyahu adviser let it be known that to run for the Likud leadership candidates had to be active Likud members for at least three years.
"He was in the Likud before and he is welcome to come back," Netanyahu said. "I don't want to involve him in politics but I wish he would come. We are glad for everyone who joins."
"He is my friend and I wish him good luck no matter what decision he makes," Shalom said.
Likud activist Aryeh Shasha of Holon said that Katsav still came to weddings and bar mitzvahs of key Likud central committee members, but not as much as he used to. Shasha, who describes himself as a Katsav supporter for 30 years, predicted that the president would return to politics and restore the Likud and the country to its former glory.
"My feeling is that it is not easy for him to see the situation in the country and the Likud, so all the signs indicate that he will return to compete for the Likud leadership and the premiership," Shasha said. "He still has a lot of support in the field. He is not willing to talk about it yet but, when the time comes, he will decide. I hope he comes and makes everything right again."