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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
A legal loophole uncovered Sunday may postpone the presidential elections by more than a month, confirmed Knesset officials.
The current law that determines when elections are held is dictated by the Basic Law: The Presidency, which says the elections must be held at least 30 days before the acting president steps down. On the basis of that law, Knesset Speaker and Acting President Dalia Itzik has set the elections for June 14.
However, an emergency clause to the Basic Law dictates that if the current president resigns or is impeached, the Knesset should hold new elections in 45 days.
Considering the two laws, Knesset Legal Adviser Nurit Elstein announced Sunday that the emergency clause takes precedence over the normative law. In practice, if President Moshe Katsav decided to resign from his position days before the June 14 election date, the election would be postponed by 45 days, and not held on the original date.
Knesset officials said Elstein made the decision following prompting by Itzik to try and find a legal way to postpone the elections.
"We have a clear case of foul political and legal behavior here, where Elstein is using her position to try and accomplish the goals of the Knesset speaker," said one Knesset official, who added that if Elstein insisted on her position, the issue would be taken to the High Court. "The one person that this serves above all others is Itzik."
There is no current evidence to show that Katsav is considering resigning, added Knesset officials. Itzik could not be reached for comment.
According to Knesset sources, Itzik has become increasingly interested in the presidency. She has announced, however, that she would not contend for the position unless Vice Premier Shimon Peres declines to enter the race.
Peres has seesawed over whether he will enter the race, with many advising him to instead set his sights on the larger chair of prime minister. Peres is among several candidates who have been suggested as replacements for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert if he decides to step down from that post.
According to one opposition MK, Itzik was trying to manipulate the political calendar so that the presidential elections would be held after the Winograd report was published. In that way, Peres would be inclined to run for the prime minister's office, leaving the presidential race open for Itzik.
"Itzik has gotten the taste of the president's office and now she doesn't want to leave," said one Labor MK. "This isn't the first time she and Elstein have put their heads together to manipulate the law."
Elstein has formerly been accused of making legal decisions that favor Itzik when she made a series of decisions regarding how the Knesset should be allowed to impeach a president.
Also on Sunday, Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau gave several interviews in which he discussed why he would not contend for the presidency. Lau said that the "timing was not right" but that it had nothing to do with threats issued by MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) that Lau had committed indecent acts in his past.
Lau said he had received promises from Olmert and several other top political officials that he would "win the race with no problems." He added that he was content being the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, but would not rule out running for the presidency in the future.