Attorney-General mulls indictments [pg. 4]

Should Shlomo Benizri, Shas's No. 6 who was indicted on Wednesday for fraud, bribery and breach of trust, be allowed to serve in the 17th Knesset? Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz considered the question as he prepared for a meeting later the same day with President Moshe Katsav. The law has specific conditions under which a MK must resign, replied Mazuz. "Anything beyond [those conditions] depends on public ethics," he said. Mazuz made no secret of the fact that he does not agree with the status quo, "but that's the way it is," he said, adding that he hoped there would be no need to charge members of the incoming Knesset with criminal offences. "But you have to be a great optimist to believe it won't happen." Mazuz was at Beit Hanassi at Katsav's invitation. The president, who intends to start his round of consultative talks with the various political party factions on Sunday, even if the official results have not been published by then, wanted to update himself on all the legal issues involved in determining who is best suited to form the next government. Katsav told reporters that the law does not obligate him to ask the leader of the largest party, or even another MK from the largest party, to form the government. The most important thing to take into consideration, he said, was who was best qualified to put together a stable government that would serve a full term. A government minister and a Likud MK for almost quarter of a century before his election to the presidency, Katsav, when asked about the humiliating blow that Likud had suffered in the elections, said it was painful but did not want to talk politics. When pressed on the subject and asked if he saw himself as Likud's salvation once his tenure expires at the end of July 2007, Katsav declined to answer, stating he would not respond to questions of a specific political nature while serving as president. Terming the election a difficult one, Katsav voiced the hope that the next government would be stable and capable of forming strategies and meeting the crucial challenges confronting it. He also urged all parties to come to terms with the fact the fight for Knesset mandates is over and that national considerations must now take precedence over party interests.