Background: Should the president intervene?

After Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu appealed to President Shimon Peres on Monday night to help convince Kadima and Labor to join his government, the air waves and political circles were abuzz with the question of how involved a president should be in the formation of a government. The difficulty lies in the fact that the role of president is defined by law as apolitical, and many interpret this to mean that he must not meddle in politics at all. However, the same law gives the president the right to assign the task of forming a government to a member of Knesset recommended by factions of the various political parties that are represented in the Knesset. Most of these factions, when they met with Peres after the elections, recommended that he ask Netanyahu to convene the next government. The majority also expressed a desire for a broad coalition. In the interim, Netanyahu and other politicians have turned to the president for help in achieving this aim, and Peres has acquiesced to what he believes to be both the will of the public and the best interests of the nation. Artice 11, section 2 of the The Basic Law - The President states that the president "shall take action to achieve the formation of a government." In helping the man to whom he assigned the task, that's exactly what Peres is doing. Those who were opposed to Peres's candidacy for the presidency argued that he was a political animal who would not be able to resist keeping his finger in the political pie. Yet Peres has surprised them. While he was still a politician, prior to his present role, he was already referred to as a statesman - but never more so than in the past year and three-quarters, in which he has been president. Peres has been very careful to keep his distance from party politics, and has even refrained from publicly expressing his views on international political issues in which Israel is involved, unless he was specifically asked to do so by the prime minister. Following all the media reports about people to whom Peres has spoken regarding a national unity government, or at the very least a broad coalition that is not entirely right-wing, Israel Radio's Yaron Dekel on Tuesday asked Arye Shumer, the former director-general of Beit Hanassi under Weizman, whether the president should be engaged in the cobbling together of the coalition. Shumer's reply was an unequivocal "Yes!" With Peres's experience in political life he should definitely be involved, said Shumer. "It's the right thing to do, it's not a catastrophe," he added. "There are people who won't like it," he acknowledged, "but they should remember that Netanyahu came to Peres and not Peres to Netanyahu."