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Knesset members enjoyed their final calm this weekend before the storm expected to hit when the Knesset begins its winter session Monday.
After a four-month recess, MKs are gearing up for a tumultuous first day, as they weigh how to greet President Moshe Katsav if he attends the Knesset's opening session.
Traditionally, the president attends the first day of the Knesset session and the MKs rise upon his entrance to greet him. This year, however, Katsav may absent himself from the proceedings due to the controversy surrounding his alleged sexual misconduct.
On Saturday night, officials at Beit Hanassi said that the Knesset's opening session was still marked on Katsav's calendar, but that he might change his mind about attending.
While several parties, including Labor and Meretz, have discussed walking out of the plenum when Katsav enters, it appeared on Saturday that less than a dozen lawmakers intend on following through. Many MKs said they were holding off on making a decision until it became certain whether the president would attend.
"It has not yet been brought up in the party faction because we all still feel that Katsav will absent himself," said a senior Shas MK. "It will be very surprising if the president attends. I expect many MKs will have to weigh how to behave."
Labor MKs Nadia Hilu and Yoram Marciano, Arye Eldad (NU-NRP), Ruhama Avraham (Kadima), Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) and Ya'acov Margi (Shas) have already announced that if the president attends the opening plenum session, they will leave the room to protest what they term "the dishonorable president." Several of those MKs have issued mounting calls to impeach the president.
"We have the power and the authority to impeach President Katsav," said Gal-On. "It is our obligation to make sure he has no part in any political event and that he does not preside over the opening of the Knesset's winter session."
Avraham has suggested that she might use her position as chairwoman of the House Committee to begin impeachment proceedings against Katsav. She needs the signatures of 20 MKs to begin the process.
In addition to the Katsav controversy, the Knesset will face several bills outlining major reforms to the government.
On Wednesday, a bill by Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman will receive a preliminary reading. Lieberman, who advocates an American-style presidential system, has been in talks to join the government and may receive the support of the coalition as part of the deal he is negotiating with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Under Lieberman's plan, a president would be elected directly while a second ballot would choose representatives in parliament. Parties would need to receive at least 10 percent of the national vote to qualify for representation in the Knesset, thus eliminating smaller parties who need to merge in order to remain in the Knesset.
Meanwhile, Kadima is advancing its own plan for direct elections, which would see the leader of the largest party automatically become prime minister.
While the Katsav controversy and parliamentary reform are expected to occupy the Knesset during its first week, the largest storm looms over the 2007 budget.
It took the Knesset's Finance Committee five votes to pass the budget through the preliminary reading, boding ill for the budget when it faces the entire Knesset. If the government cannot pass the budget by May 31, 2007, the Knesset will automatically be dispersed and early elections called.
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