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Meretz said Wednesday that it would seek parliamentary backing to launch impeachment proceedings against President Moshe Katsav following Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz's announcement on Tuesday that he would charge the president with rape.
Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On said Katsav should have immediately resigned on Tuesday when Mazuz confirmed his intention to indict the president. She said she would start collecting the 20 lawmakers' signatures necessary to convene an impeachment debate in parliament, without waiting for Katsav's statement.
"We shall not await the president's statement," she told Israel Radio. "We are starting the process of signing up members of parliament to bring about the impeachment of the president."
Within hours of Mazuz's announcement, MKs from across the political spectrum sprang into action with their own plans to force the president's resignation.
The lawmakers called on Katsav to step down on his own, saying the Knesset would act if he failed to do so.
Background: The president's options
"He must resign immediately now that he has humiliated the institution of the presidency," said Meretz MK Ran Cohen.
"The damage that has been done to this institution over the last few months is so great that only his immediate resignation can bring about the institution's recovery," said party chairman Yossi Beilin.
In order to begin impeachment proceedings, 20 MKs must sign a proposal in the House Committee. The panel would then call a special meeting, and if three-quarters of MKs supported impeachment, it would move to the full Knesset, where another three-quarters majority would be required.
On Tuesday night, it was unclear how many MKs would support the move. Most lawmakers said they would wait until Wednesday morning, when Katsav is scheduled to hold a press conference, to decide how they would proceed. The process would take months, prompting many MKs to suggest alternative methods of impeaching the president.
MK Avshalom Vilan (Meretz) said he would introduce a bill Wednesday proposing that a president who is indicted must automatically be removed from the post.
"Katsav cannot conduct a legal battle against rape charges from Beit Hanassi, and therefore he must end his term," Vilan said.
MK Yitzhak Galanti (Gil Pensioners) said he would propose a bill allowing the Knesset House Committee to force the president to temporarily suspend himself.
Currently, the House Committee can approve a suspension if it is requested by the president. In September, the panel granted Katsav's request for a 16-hour leave of absence so that he could avoid the swearing in of Dorit Beinisch as Supreme Court president.
On Tuesday, MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) said, "If President Moshe Katsav intends to ask the Knesset House Committee for an additional period of temporary suspension, I will vehemently oppose it."
"If the president doesn't resign, the Knesset should move for an immediate impeachment," Hasson said.
In the past, the Likud Party, of which Katsav is a member, either defended him or remained silent on the charges. On Tuesday, however, Likud MKs added their voices to the calls for his impeachment.
"Under the circumstances, it is expected of the president that he resign his position," said party whip MK Gideon Sa'ar. "A resignation is demanded by the honor of the institution of the presidency. It does not determine guilt or innocence, which will only be established in court."
MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud), who was one of Katsav's closest friends in the party, said the day Katsav became president was "one of the happiest days of my life," while Tuesday was "one of the saddest." Steinitz also said Katsav should resign.
Several MKs, including MK Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima), the chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, congratulated the police and prosecution on their handling of the case.
"This proves that even the number one citizen is not above the law. I call on the president to reconsider the continuation of his term," he said.
MK Zevulun Orlev (NU-NRP), chairman of the State Control Committee, said Mazuz's recommendation to indict Katsav marked "a sad day for the state and its citizens." The NU-NRP also called for the president to resign.
AP contributed to this report.
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