A new and more serious indictment — possibly including rape charges — may be filed as early as next week against Israel’s disgraced former president Moshe Katsav after his withdrawal Tuesday from a plea deal that would have kept him out of jail.
“I want to fight for my innocence,” Katsav told a three-judge panel in Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court. “I have been thinking about this for a long time, and it was finalized in my mind today.”
But Yoram Meital, chairman of the Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said Katsav’s change of heart was not a complete surprise.
“Two weeks ago we heard for the first time of this possibility,” he said.
In the plea arrangement Katsav signed in June, he acknowledged committing relatively minor sexual offenses against female employees. Rape charges were omitted from the agreement, a fact that so angered some women’s groups that they asked Israel’s High Court of Justice to annul it. It expressed displeasure with the deal but let it stand.
Jerusalem District Attorney Irit Baumgarten told the court Tuesday that Katsav’s decision means “we are going back to the point we were at before the plea bargain was signed.”
But Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, said the fact the case was already on the court calendar could mean that it will quickly go to trial.
However, it could be delayed, he said, should Katsav’s lawyers “insist on seeing all of the evidence.”
Women’s groups gathered outside of the courthouse Tuesday and there were shouts of “rapist, rapist” when Katsav appeared.
“There is a lot of anger about this case,” Steinberg said. “It seems this disgusting soap opera will dominate the news, and that the important issues will be pushed to the side in this 60th year of independence. It will be quite a mess.”
In another development, former Israeli Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin said he learned that President George W. Bush will ask Israeli and Palestinian leaders to join him in the Sinai resort of Sharm e-Sheikh to continue their efforts at reaching an agreement in principle on the core issues that need resolution before a peace accord is achieved. The meeting would coincide with Bush’s visit to Israel next month to attend the country’s birthday celebrations.
Beilin told The Jewish Week that it would be a “big mistake” if the peace talks turned into nothing more than a photo opportunity because “it would contribute to the feeling that nothing is happening except for speeches and meetings.”
“It would be crazy not to use this opportunity,” he said. “They should make out of it something more concrete and bring to Sharm el-Sheikh one core issue like territory and say we have solved the formula, which might be based on Israel’s ’67 borders with equal land swaps. That would be enough to have a summit meeting that was significant. If even something like this is not on the agenda, don’t meet.”
A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Aryeh Mekel, declined to comment on the suggestion and noted that no summit has even been announced.
- Foreign Minister
- District Attorney
- George W. Bush
- Bar-Ilan University
- Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
- Gerald Steinberg
- Yossi Beilin
- professor of political science
- Moshe Katsav
- Irit Baumgarten
- Israel News
- Staff Writer
- the Jewish Week
- Steve Lipman
- Yoram Meital