Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin announced Tuesday evening that President Moshe Katsav and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz both approved a compromise, according to which elections will be held on March 28 and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will be able to appoint ministers without Knesset approval.
Legal wrangling over an election date ensued after Sharon called on Katsav Monday to issue an executive order to dissolve the parliament. Dissolving the Knesset by such an order would allow Sharon to appoint ministers without parliamentary approval and would set March 7 as the election date.
Knesset factions opposed such a move, demanding that Katsav allow them to pass legislation on dissolving the parliament, which would push elections to the later date of March 28 and would necessitate Knesset approval for the prime minister's ministerial appointments.
The compromise stipulates that elections will be held on March 28, and the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee will continue deliberating legislation on dissolving the Knesset. Sharon will be able to submit a decree on dissolving the parliament until December 8. If he does issue such a decree, legislation on dissolving the parliament will be halted and the prime minister will be able to appoint ministers without the approval of the plenum.
The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee will begin deliberations on early election legislation on Wednesday.
Earlier Tuesday, in an unprecedented step, the president asked the Knesset to freeze pending legislation on holding early elections, thus allowing Katsav to accede to Sharon's request that the president issue an executive order to dissolve the parliament.
Speaking at a press conference Tuesday evening, Kastav said Sharon told him he feared he would be left with only five ministers and that under such circumstances he would not be able to run state affairs.
Mazuz met with Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman MK Michael Eitan (Likud) and the Knesset legal adviser to discuss the compromise.
Katsav rejects criticismRejecting criticism on the move Katsav said at the press conference "the Prime Minister and I did not act on a personal whim or initiative, but rather followed the same law the Knesset sought to implement in order to reassert its powers."
"The prime minister and myself were authorized by the Knesset to act the way we did," Katsav said.
Earlier on Tuesday legal experts said such a step could have an impact on the principle of separation of powers.
The question of whether the Knesset or the prime minister decides on early elections is at the focus of a wrestling match between the executive and legislative branches, specifically, between Sharon and the Knesset, and between Sharon and his former Likud party, which still controls such key Knesset posts as that of speaker of the house and chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.
Late on Monday, hours after Sharon asked Katsav to issue a decree to dissolve the house, the Knesset approved eight bills calling for dissolution of the legislature, and early elections were approved by an 84-10 margin.
At issue, in part, is the question of whether Sharon will have the power to appoint new cabinet ministers without Knesset approval. The Likud is to decide Thursday whether to order its cabinet ministers to resign from the government, a step which would leave Sharon with only five ministers in his cabinet.
The office of the presidency is largely ceremonial, and by law the president's powers are limited. Although dissolving the Knesset and assisting in the formation of a new government are among the few areas in which the president is allowed to intervene in Israeli politics, there is no precedent for a presidential request of parliament to consider freezing legislation.
The call for early elections is normally made by the Knesset, therefore a presidential decree bypasses the legislative authority twice: By taking away from the Knesset its prerogative to call for early elections, and by allowing the prime minister to appoint ministers without Knesset approval.
In addition to allowing the prime minister to appoint ministers without Knesset assent, a presidential order would also effectively block a possible attempt by Likud legislators to delay the elections, perhaps until May.
Analysts believe that such a delay would work in the Likud's favor, and sap Sharon of much of his present electoral strength,
The Basic Law on the Government stipulates that the prime minister can dissolve the Knesset only "with the president's approval."
But Attorney General Menachem Mazuz ruled this week that under the existing conditions, if the prime minister insists on a presidential decree, the president has no choice but to accede.
Knesset Speaker summons lawmakersOn Tuesday afternoon Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin summoned a meeting with all Knesset faction heads, as well as the eight lawmakers who had initiated legislation on holding early elections, to discuss the matter.
The eight MKs who initiated legislation on holding early elections were handed a legal opinion by Mazuz, according to which "once the president becomes aware that the conditions stipulated by the law [that require the decree to be issued] are created, he must give his consent [to such a move]."
Mazuz states in the document that in theory, the president may seek the opinion of the prime minister or of the Knesset factions in order to find alternative ways to act under such circumstances.
However, "As the president became aware that the conditions stipulated by law for the issuing of a decree by the prime minister exist, and the prime minister insists on issuing the decree, it seems the president has no choice but to approve this move."
Prior to Katsav's announcement, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee was scheduled to convene Tuesday at 2 P.M. to discuss the preparation of bills to disperse the Knesset and to hold early elections on March 28 for their first reading.
Haaretz has learned that most of the legislators who initiated the bills for the dispersal of the Knesset expressed their dismay and objection to the president's decision.
They expressed their objections during the meeting with Rivlin, which delayed the start of the House Committee's meeting.
Committee chairman MK Michael Eitan (Likud) told Haaretz that if the Knesset completes legislation of the early election bills by Wednesday, the president will refrain from issuing the decree.
Katsav has stressed that his condition for allowing the Knesset to move for early elections was that Sharon be allowed to name new ministers.
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