Israeli President to Resign in Plea Bargain

Published: June 28, 2007

Accused of sexual crimes, the Israeli president agreed today to resign under a plea bargain in which he would not face a jail term or rape charges but would plead guilty to a charge of indecent assault and other charges, Israel’s attorney general said.

Also today, Palestinian militants in the Nablus area in the West Bank detonated explosive devices against Israeli forces, severely injuring an officer and a soldier, the Israeli Army said.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz announced at a news conference today that the president, Moshe Katsav, would also be charged with sexual harassment and harassing a witness, Israeli news organizations and international news agencies reported. An indictment of Mr. Katsav will be filed on Sunday after he submits his resignation to the speaker of the Israeli parliament on Friday.

After pleading guilty to the three charges, Mr. Katsav will receive a suspended sentence and be ordered to pay compensation to the complainants, Mr. Mazuz said.

The Justice Ministry said in January that Mr. Mazuz planned to indict Mr. Katsav on charges of rape and other sexual misconduct related to four women who worked for him when he was tourism minister in the late 1990s or after he became president in 2000. The president said he would resign if formally charged. An Israeli parliamentary committee approved Mr. Katsav’s request to suspend himself at the time.

Israeli law prohibits putting a sitting president on trial, but permits prosecution if a president resigns, is impeached or finishes the term.

Of Mr. Katsav, Mr. Mazuz was quoted by Reuters today as saying that “shame will accompany him forever.”

“From Israel’s first citizen, he turns into a criminal convicted of sexual offences,” he said.

Because the role of the president in Israel is largely ceremonial, Mr. Katsav’s case was not expected to have a direct impact on the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The Israeli government’s role has been more focused in the past few weeks, at least publicly, on Palestinian developments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

On Monday, Mr. Olmert held talks in Egypt with Egyptian and Jordanian leaders and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, to show support for Mr. Abbas’s government in the wake of the Islamist militant group Hamas’s seizure of control of the Gaza Strip.

The summit meeting was intended to show support for what were described as “moderate” voices in the government after Mr. Abbas dissolved the Hamas-led cabinet and installed new ministers.

Fresh intentions to work toward building the framework for an eventual Palestinian state were apparent when mediators representing the “quartet” — the United States, Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union — appointed Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, as the new Middle East envoy on Wednesday.

Mr. Olmert said Israel would cooperate with Mr. Blair to the fullest, and today the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs also welcomed him in the role.

“His experience, knowledge and abilities will surely advance the important processes set out as goals by the quartet,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, efforts to create a viable political environment are taking place alongside military action, a reminder that one of the challenges ahead includes how Israel and the Palestinians will deal with the military wings of Palestinian groups, including Mr. Abbas’s own Fatah faction.

In Nablus today, the Israeli officer and soldier were severely wounded and two soldiers were lightly wounded when Palestinians set off an explosive device at the Israeli forces, the army said in a statement. Israeli forces retrieved several weapons and ammunition and arrested what were described as “operatives” affiliated with Fatah.

The Israeli Army said in a statement that its forces have been operating in Nablus and in its outskirts “to disrupt the extensive terrorist activities in the city and prevent the dispatch of terrorist attacks and bombings.”