President Katsav / A Prince Leaving as a Frog

Israeli citizens can feel proud: During the course of seven days, the decision has been made to investigate the prime minister on suspicion of sewing up a tender for his friends, the chief of staff quit due to his responsibility for the failed war, and the president - the symbol of the state and its No. 1 citizen - has been informed that the attorney general plans to indict him for rape and other serious charges. Not bad for 168 hours.

There is room for taking pride in a state that is governed by the rule of law, that is not engaged in a cover-up. Nonetheless, the feeling of Israeli citizens yesterday was not one of pride, but primarily, shame.

True, the indictment could still be toned down, and anyway, an indictment isn't a conviction. But the thought that a man accused of such deeds is sitting in the President's Residence is intolerable. One of the television presenters who discussed the developments last night made sure to call Katsav by the title "the honorable president," as though he were moderating the annual Bible quiz, or as if he were an employee of the President's Residence who is still bound by the honor of the institution. But what honor, and what an institution?

The next president will need months, if not years, to rehabilitate what Katsav has destroyed. The task of the next chief of staff in rehabilitating the army and restoring public confidence in it will be easier than that of the next president. If Katsav were to change his behavior pattern, he would do the right thing for once and quit the presidency today, disappearing from the spotlight. If he had done so at the beginning of the scandal, on July 8, he would be faring much better today.

Katsav's insistence on staying in his post, the humiliation he heaped on himself before each official ceremony, and the ugly war he waged against the first complainant have all led to a flood of further complaints against him.

Katsav's predecessor, Ezer Weizman, chose a dignified resignation in exchange for the cancellation of the indictment against him on corruption charges. But Katsav thought differently. He believed the wall surrounding the President's Residence would protect him.

Katsav made a series of critical mistakes on his way to an indictment, from going to the attorney general with the complaint that the first complainant, A., was attempting to extort him, to reportedly attempting to get a criminal to help him. Now Katsav is seen as a serial sexual offender. All in all, he began his political career as a prince, but is ending it as a frog.

Katsav may be replaced by one of the five current candidates: Reuven Rivlin, Shimon Peres, Colette Avital, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau and Dalia Itzik. Not all of them will reach the finish line. Itzik, who is likely to be appointed acting president if Katsav announces that he is unable to continue as president, was planning to fly to Madrid today for a five-day visit. Last night, she told Spanish officials she would only be going for a quick weekend visit "due to the political developments in Israel."

Whether Katsav resigns today or asks the Knesset to approve his temporary incapacity to serve as president, his action won't have a far-reaching influence on Israeli politics.

The tempests on the horizon - the Winograd Commission findings, the chance of a redistribution of government portfolios, the Labor Party primaries and the criminal investigations of the prime minister - are the real story. Katsav will go down in the books as a footnote, an embarrassing hitch. As we get more and more used to the story of the president, it will slowly move from the front page to the crime page.