Amid widespread but unconfirmed reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was considering abolishing the office of the presidency, President Shimon Peres offered his first public thoughts on the issue, expressing support for the institution and saying he would not extend his term to allow for new legislation on the issue.
“In most democratic countries, there is a president and prime minister — there are advantages to this and the Knesset will decide,” Peres said Monday morning during a meeting with King Harald V of Norway in Oslo.
Peres’s term ends in July, but last week Israeli media reported that Netanyahu was aiming to postpone presidential elections for up to six months, during which time he could push through a law abolishing the presidential office. Reports Monday quoted sources in the Prime Minister’s office confirming the plan.
The idea has been met with stiff criticism both within Netanyahu’s Likud party and from other factions.
Peres said Monday he had entered the office on the correct date and would leave it on the correct date, too — July 27, 2014.
Opposition chief and Labor chairman Isaac Herzog said in no uncertain terms Monday that he was against the idea of abolishing the presidency. “We rejected it outright,” he said at the beginning of the Labor faction meeting. “We will not subordinate Israeli democracy to the whims of the prime minister. This is an important institution which the nation looks to.”
Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-on also decried the idea. “The move to cancel the office of the presidency, a moment before the elections, is contemptuous of the presidency, and is a crude and shameless trampling of the little bit of honor left in our democracy. In addition, it points to the irrationality and complete hysteria of the prime minister, who is driven by his personal vendetta.”
Shas chairman Aryeh Deri said Monday in his faction meeting that “the race [to choose Peres's successor] has started and we cannot stop it. We will not support any initiative delaying the elections.”
“As usual, [Netanyahu's] behavior was amateurish,” a senior coalition official told the news site Ynet. “Netanyahu does not at this time have the ability and power to guide this process to realization. And he does not have the necessary partners from the coalition. As things appear now, there is no possibility of postponing the presidential elections.”
The Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported that not a single minister from the Likud party supports the idea.
Also Monday, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, from Netanyahu’s Likud party, pledged that the elections would be held on time, and that he would announce their date by early next week at the latest.
However, the Yisrael Beytenu party, which ran with Likud in the most recent elections, said it would support a delay of the presidential election if it were done in order to create a “presidential system” in Israel, in which the president is the head of both government and state, as is the case in the United States.
And Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said she would consider the matter if a serious proposal was presented.
Peres’s seven-year term ends on July 27. The Knesset must elect a new president at least a month before that date.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.