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The fears of Knesset members that the impeachment of President Moshe Katsav would take months rather than weeks were given new rise Monday when the Knesset House Committee had to delay even a preliminary vote due to heavy infighting among MKs.
The committee had been scheduled to vote on the procedural steps that would be involved in impeaching the president. Currently, only the most basic guidelines exist, as it is a step that the Knesset has never before taken against the president.
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However, the vote on a set of procedures drawn up by Committee Chairwoman Ruhama Avraham (Kadima) and the committee's legal adviser Nurit Edelstein was delayed for one day after a series of disruptive arguments delayed the meeting. The House Committee will reconvene Tuesday for a marathon session that will hold a vote before 2 p.m.
MKs Zehava Gal-On (Meretz), Yoram Marciano (Labor) and Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) all cried foul when MKs from the Shas Party tried to filibuster the vote with long speeches and motions. Several of these motions included delaying the vote because Avraham was unable to attend due to illness.
"Ruhama prepared the procedures that we are discussing today. How can we possibly meet without her? I suggest we delay by two weeks to allow her to appear and to allow us to review the procedures she is proposing," said MK Nissim Ze'ev (Shas).
MK Avigdor Yitzhaki (Kadima), who chaired the meeting in Avraham's absence, did not accept Ze'ev's motion, but agreed to consult with Avraham and Edelstein ahead of Tuesday's scheduled meeting.
Most of the complaints launched by MKs took issue with the duration of the dismissal process that Avraham and Edelstein had established in their procedures.
These procedures suggested that the president and his legal representatives be given two weeks to prepare for their appearance before the committee.
In contrast, Gal-On wants Katsav to have 48 hours for preparation.
Gal-On also slammed Edelstein for failing to inform the committee members that the president was free to return from his self-declared suspension anytime he wished, without requiring the Knesset's approval.
"This major oversight clearly affected the vote last week which granted the president a temporary suspension," said Gal-On. "This type of biased counseling cannot be tolerated."
Afterwards, MK Zvi Hendel (National Union-National Religious Party) called to dismiss Edelstein from her position. Last Thursday, the House Committee approved a three-month suspension at the request of Katsav.
Several other fights broke out during the meeting between MK Michael Eitan (Likud), who has vehemently defended Katsav, and Gal-On. At one point, Eitan told Gal-On "don't be 'guillotine' Zehava." Gal-On then called on Eitan to apologize for the comment but he refused.
The committee has already received the signatures of 30 MKs to begin the proceedings to impeach the president. The current law lays down three steps that are needed for a Knesset impeachment. The first is that a minimum of 20 signatures are presented to the House Committee.
The second is a vote of at least two-thirds of the committee (19 of 25 MKs) in favor of impeachment. The third step is a two-thirds vote in the plenum (90 of 120 MKs) in favor of impeachment.
While the steps are clear, no timeline is dictated for the proceedings. That timeline, including how many meetings should be held and who should be required to attend, is at the heart of the debate over the procedure.
Several MKs submitted their own versions of how the procedure should occur, including MK Dov Henin (Hadash), who said that Katsav should be given one week to prepare a defense, and that the Knesset plenum should be convened for an emergency session as soon as the House Committee had voted.
Katsav's hearing, where he is being accused of rape and breach of trust, is expected to take place within two months, said a representative from the Attorney-General's Office Sunday.