Analysis: Torn between 'a nudge and a shrove'

The seven-hour debate leading to Thursday's vote in the Knesset House Committee approving President Moshe Katsav's temporary leave was a moment of reckoning for reporters and committee members. But rather than the type of self-reflection that Katsav suggested should be undertaken by the purveyors of his guilt, the mob of people gathered outside the committee room were involved in debating and deciding the best way to see Katsav leave his office. No one who took part in the vote on Thursday said that Katsav should continue in his role as Israel's president. The strongest defense, which came from MK Moshe Sharoni (Gil), opined that Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz was still deliberating on the case and that the president was still innocent until proven guilty. "At the end of the day, one way or another, we knew we would be pushing Katsav out of office," said one Kadima MK after the final vote. "The question was if that push would be a nudge or a shove." Ultimately, the vote to approve Katsav's request did not reflect the individual religion, gender, or age of the MKs. All of the Knesset members voted along their party lines, which perhaps said more about the motivation of their ballots than the outcome itself. The MKs who had the most antagonism towards Katsav were the ones who voted against granting him a temporary suspension. They came from the Labor, Meretz, Likud, NU-NRP, and United Arab List parties. Their argument, which was championed by MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) and Labor MKs Shelly Yacimovich and Yoram Marciano, was that granting the president his temporary suspension gave him immunity from an indictment. Instead, the MKs wanted to see their own petition to forcibly remove Katsav from office advanced as quickly as possible. While Gal-On argued that it could be accomplished in as little as one week, Nurit Edelstein, the legal adviser to the Knesset House Committee, said that under the speediest circumstances, the Knesset could vote on the petition in two months. "According to the Basic Law of the Knesset and the Basic Law of the President there are a number of steps that need to happen before we can even go to an initial vote," said Edelstein. For the Kadima, Gil Pensioners, Shas, Israel Beiteinu and Hadash parties, seeing Katsav in office for an additional two months was simply unacceptable. "To preserve the dignity of the presidency, we must see Katsav removed from his position as soon as possible," said Coalition Chairman Avigdor Itzhaki. "There are MKs here who are arguing that by doing this, we are decreasing the chances of the petition to force his permanent removal. I disagree with that." Itzhaki also added that the office of the president needed to be treated with respect. If put in the same position, said Itzhaki, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and all the members of his party would themselves resign from the office of the presidency. Itzhakhi's words could set an important precedent if any of the investigations pending against Olmert result in an indictment.