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ISRAEL - Aug. 1 - Pres. Katsav Takes Office.

Moshe Katsav, the opposition lawmaker who was a winner over former PM Peres for the presidency, takes the oath of office before the Knesset, pledging to use his position to bridge gaps in Israeli political ideology. Iranian-born Katsav says: "The next few years will certainly be a period where the citizens of this country [and] the members of Knesset will have to decide ... issues where the answers can lead to major upheavals in Israeli society", adding: "For many, many years we have been striving to reach peace with our neighbours. I believe that you have chosen me in order to achieve peace within ourselves". Pres. Weizman hands his position to Katsav, hailing what he calls "a real changing of the generations". Weizman, who resigned in July amid allegations of fraud and breach of trust, warns his successor to stay out of trouble with a caution that "it isn't easy". (Katsav's 2nd-round win over Peres, PM Barak's choice for the job and a former Nobel Peace Prize winner, shocked observers on July 31 who believed Peres was a certain winner. But after 3 parties resigned their positions in Barak's government just before the summit, the prime minister was left with a minority coalition, and that made nothing certain for him in the Israeli legislature.) The right-wing hard-liner Katsav received the full backing of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party - one of Barak's former coalition partners - after one of the party's spiritual leaders, Rabbi Yitzhak Kadouri, said he had a vision that Katsav was favoured by the heavens. As a result, Kadouri aides mounted a phone campaign, urging legislators of Shas and other factions to back Katsav.

(The 55-year-old Katsav, an Iranian immigrant who grew up in a tent camp for immigrants and later became Israel's youngest elected mayor at 24, has served in the Knesset since 1977 and has held a number of posts throughout the years. Katsav has been deputy minister of housing and construction [1981-84], minister of labour and social affairs [1984-88], minister of transport [1988-92], and minister of tourism and deputy prime minister [1996-1999]. He also served as minister in charge of Israeli Arab affairs, and was chairman of the conservative Likud Party's Knesset faction.) Likud leader Sharon says the vote was a message that the Knesset was not behind the PM's path to the ME peace, but Barak insists that - regardless of any Knesset vote - the Israeli people do support him. Peres says he was not bitter about the vote and was looking to the future, saying the next 90 days were critical for Israel. Peres says: "It is a sad and difficult morning. I see this as the moment of truth for the country. The next 90 days will determine our destiny". He says: "We must in the next 3 months try to complete the peace process with the Palestinians for 2 reasons: 1st, because the process is already in its last stage, not much has to be invested in order to complete it. 2nd, if it fails it will be a terrible blow to Israel's future. I truly fear for the future of Israel". (Just a few hours after the presidential vote, Barak survived a vote of no-confidence.)
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Aug 5, 2000
Words:531
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