US officials signal readiness to work with Rivlin

Ignoring his one-state views, White House and State Department praise election of Likud lawmaker to presidency; Palestinian official blasts pick

Reuven Rivlin at the Western Wall after winning the presidency, June 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Reuven Rivlin at the Western Wall after winning the presidency, June 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The White House on Tuesday congratulated President-elect Reuven Rivlin on winning the post, indicating the two countries would continue to enjoy strong ties.

Rivlin, a hawkish lawmaker from the Likud party, beat out centrist candidate Meir Sheetrit in two rounds of Knesset balloting earlier in the day.

In a statement, US President Barack Obama praised Rivlin and looked forward to ties that would strengthen the two countries’ “unique relationship.”

“President-elect Rivlin has a long and dedicated record of public service and we look forward to continued strong ties, to the benefit of both our nations, under Mr. Rivlin’s presidency,” he said in a statement.

Unlike outgoing President Shimon Peres, who is roundly hailed in the international arena as a peacemaker, Rivlin is known for more hard-line positions. He has gone on record saying he prefers a single-state confederation with Palestinians rather than a two-state solution, a position that puts him at odds with the US’s stance.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki deflected questions about Rivlin’s political views, saying only that Washington looked forward to working with him.

She added that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did support a two-state solution.

Rivlin has been a longtime supporter of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. While rejecting Palestinian independence, he has proposed a special union in which Jews and Arabs would hold common citizenship but vote for separate parliaments.

Although Rivlin will play no role in Israeli foreign policy, Abdullah Abdullah, a senior Palestinian official, said the election of a man with his views sent a bad message.

“I don’t see how he will contribute anything to peacemaking in the region. He is opposed to the two-state solution,” he said.

The president is meant to serve as a unifying figure and moral compass for the country, and Rivlin has said that in contrast to Peres, he would focus on domestic affairs if selected to the post.

Speaking at a Knesset ceremony to celebrate his election, Rivlin said his new position “commits me to remove the robe of politics,” an indication that he may subdue his political beliefs as president.

“I am not a man of a (political) movement. I am a man of everyone. A man of the people,” said Rivlin, visibly moved as he made his acceptance speech.

While most political power is held by the prime minister, the president plays several key roles in Israel, with the power to pardon prisoners and authority to choose the prime minister after national elections.

In this role, the president selects a member of parliament, or Knesset, to form a majority coalition after elections. This has usually been the leader of the party with the most seats in parliament. But with the rise of a number of midsize parties in parliament, Rivlin could theoretically have more influence over choosing the country’s prime minister.

Rivlin dismissed speculation that he might be upset at Netanyahu, a Likud rival who tried to block his candidacy, saying he was “not angry at anyone.”

After securing the win, Rivlin visited the Western Wall and the grave of his father, who unsuccessfully ran to be Israel’s third president, on the Mount of Olives.

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