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Not much festivity was seen at the President's Residence yesterday. There, the presidential committee appointed to examine Israel's system of government ceremoniously presented its report. The event was held in a smaller hall so that the main hall would not look empty, due to the small attendance.

A few hundred meters from the President's Residence in Jerusalem is the former Lepers' Hospital, whose inhabitants S.Y. Agnon called "the incurable infected." It seems that the President's Residence has become Israel's public lepers' hospital. Only those who must go there do so.

It is sad especially because Moshe Katsav is the first president to establish a public committee. But now it is not at all clear that identifying the committee with the president works in its favor, and not against it.

"The president is the president," committee chairman and Hebrew University president Professor Menachem Magidor told the press. "This is the most respectable sponsorship."

Since the recommendations of the Magidor committee had already been aired, it was interesting to follow events behind the scenes. For example, the committee was proud that 50 of its 73 members had signed the report so far. But seven professors boycotted the ceremony and said they would not sign, since they believe the proposed electoral system would hurt the small parties.

Haaretz reported a few weeks ago that committee member Professor Shimon Sheetrit had recommended that the authority of the High Court of Justice be severely curtailed.

Complex matter

For example, while it might declare a law in conflict with a basic law, it would not be able to abolish it. The recommendations enjoyed wide support, but did not appear in the final report.

Katsav said Magidor had given him a number of reasons why these recommendations had been omitted.

"I believe it would not be right to touch this complex matter," the president said. "It should be left to the Knesset."

Sheetrit pledged to continue placing the matter before the public.

Several recommendations have to do with limiting the power of the Finance Ministry: the Budgets Division would be moved to the Prime Minister's Office, the budget would be set every two years, and the Economic Arrangements Law would be greatly limited, among other things.

The Magidor Committee named five flaws in the Israeli system of government, but in reading the report, it appears the committee discerned a sixth: too much power in the hands of the treasury.

Katsav was asked what would keep the Magidor report from being buried like so many others. But he can only hope the Magidor report will be different. In the final analysis, he cannot do much to help promote its recommendations.