Mofaz- Tomer Appelbaum
Shaul Mofaz, Dec. 1, 2010. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee has appointed a new chairman - former defense minister and IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz. MK Mofaz (Kadima ) told the panel yesterday he accepted the role with "awe and a feeling of grave responsibility. The State of Israel faces very serious challenges."

The appointment ends the tussle between Kadima and Likud in which opposition leader Tzipi Livni tried to secure for Kadima the chairmanship of the more powerful Economic Affairs Committee. That position eventually went to MK Carmel Shama (Likud ).

Livni began her efforts after the resignation of MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Kadima ), who had to retire as chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee after a court ruled that his perjury conviction carried moral turpitude.

Livni said at the time her party would not agree to chair the committee again; it wanted to lead the Economic Affairs Committee instead. Economic Affairs is seen as a committee through which a powerful opposition party can damage Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's economic policy.

The opposition has usually chaired the more powerful Economic Affairs Committee and the coalition headed the more prestigious but less influential Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Because of the tug-of-war between Kadima and Likud, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee did not have a solid meeting since Hanegbi resigned early last month. The committee even canceled a presentation by the chief of staff this week.

On Monday, the Kadima caucus voted not to put up a candidate at all. But yesterday, after Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and House Committee Chairman Yari Levin made clear they would impose an appointment even without an agreement between the parties, Kadima backtracked and announced Mofaz's candidacy.

Sources in Kadima told Haaretz they had reached an agreement with the coalition that Mofaz would only chair the committee until August, rather than until March 2013. They said Kadima plans to reopen discussions about swapping committee chairmanships in the summer.

Rivlin scolded both parties yesterday. "There is no precedent of a political dispute blackening a Knesset position to such a degree. The parties have shown statesmanlike responsibility, but very late. The entire political dispute should have taken up to a week," he said.

"It's inconceivable that the Knesset will find itself unable to pursue its roles of monitoring and control, especially on an issue as critical as Israel's defense and foreign affairs. This was a one-time incident that should never repeat."