Katsav's Goose May Be Cooked

Throughout his six years at the President's Residence Moshe Katsav felt a little deprived: The media seemed to him to be ignoring him and his endeavors. If it weren't for his visits to the homes of bereaved families, Independence Day ceremonies and a monthly briefing with the prime minister who would have remembered he's there at all?

"Hundreds of times you asked me questions, I never referred you to spokesmen, and you didn't even publish my responses," he was heard complaining this week to a reporter. For six years he tried to combat his media image, that of a dull, gray, uninteresting president, one who picks his words carefully, statesmanlike to a fault. Well, that problem is gone, apparently never to return.

From here on Katsav won't lack for headlines. And his image is also about to undergo a metamorphosis. The detailed testimony in Maariv yesterday of A. (not A. from the President's Residence but one from a ministry) and the testimonies appearing in Haaretz today tell the story - allegedly, everything's still allegedly - of another Katsav.

It's the story of a serial harasser, a compulsive fondler who did not make do with a trial groping, but made another attempt and yet another and when he was rebuffed, avenged and pushed away and humiliated. In short, the last man to be sitting in the President's Residence, basking in the glory of the title "Citizen No. 1" and representing Israel to the world. This is the picture if the testimony is indeed true - and not the product of some political-criminal-mobster conspiracy, which would turn Katsav into a modern version of Dreyfus.

The decision by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to open a criminal investigation, still not against Katsav, but rather against the person he claimed had tried to extort him, will doubtless lead to a probe of Katsav as well.

If this winds up being a case of he said/she said, the matter could lead to nothing. But if the investigation extends to other women, as happened in the case of former minister Yitzhak Mordechai, the option for a full seventh year in the President's Residence appears fairly remote. Katsav may become the second president in a row forced to quit his post in infamy and great shame. Something happened to Israel in the past two decades: three prime ministers were investigated on suspicion of serious offenses and somehow eluded trial; one president was investigated and resigned; and now, maybe, a second president.

Katsav tried yesterday to retract the original version he gave Mazuz a week ago (a hasty step, which ignited this great fire), but about that you can say what Benjamin Netanyahu said about the disengagement plan in its early days: There's nothing to be done, the train has left the station. It was tough to walk around the Knesset cafeteria yesterday without running into some Katsav story. All of the diners (ministers, MKs, male and female workers, veterans and newbies) had something to contribute.

Everyone knew and whoever didn't know presumed to know and whoever didn't presume to know simply invented and embellished and improved upon what he had heard a moment earlier, from somebody in the know. In between, the jokes got cranking, of which even the mildest is not fit to print.

As far as "the political establishment" is concerned, Katsav is already history. His intention of returning at the end of the seventh year to political life, of conquering the Likud leadership and later the prime ministership, seems pathetic at best.

Even before the affair broke, Katsav's chances were purely theoretical. All he had going for him - and it wasn't much - was only thanks to his being a sitting president. Regardless of whether presidential elections are pushed up or held as scheduled in about a year, the race for the job will pick up speed in another three months, when the Knesset returns from its summer recess.

In view of recent events, Shimon Peres has been mentioned as the one to salvage the remnants of the institution's honor. Peres, who lost the presidency to Katsav six years ago, will doubtless say: What do I need this for? In his private lexicon, that's the equivalent of submitting his candidacy and setting up a campaign headquarters.