Daily Israel Report

41 New Faces Take Their Seats at Knesset Inauguration Ceremony

The centerpiece of today's ceremony will be a speech by President Moshe Katzav in which he is expected to criticize Olmert's plan for another unilateral withdrawal from Judea and Samaria.
By Scott Shiloh
First Publish: 4/17/2006, 1:34 PM / Last Update: 4/17/2006, 11:42 AM

At four o’clock this afternoon the 17th Knesset will be sworn into office in a prestigious ceremony presided by MK Shimon Peres (Kadima), the legislature’s oldest representative.

Forty-one new Members of Knesset (MK’s), making up over one third of the 120 seat Knesset, will take their seats for the first time, following March 28’s general legislative election.

The centerpiece of the inauguration will be a speech by President Moshe Katzav in which he is expected to criticize Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan to uproot up to 70,000 Jews from their homes in Judea and Samaria.

According to advance copies of his speech, Katzav will say that Israel has made enough concessions to the Arabs without receiving anything in return. “The State of Israel has made three major historic concessions, the Oslo agreements, the Road Map, and the Disengagement, but up until now, we have not seen anything in return,” according to the text of the speech.

Katzav will implore the government to set the country’s borders by national consensus and by mapping out Israel’s vital national interests. “The eastern border has ramifications for [Israel’s] existence,” the president will say, referring to country’s post 1967 eastern boundary, currently on the Jordan River.

Katzav will also criticize MK-elect Avigdor Lieberman’s (Yisrael Beitenu) proposal for exchanging Israeli territories populated by Arab citizens with territories in Judea and Samaria inhabited by Jews. “I oppose negating the citizenship of Israelis because of their religious, nationality, or race, no matter what the reasons are,” adding, “The rights of Israel’s Arabs are not conditioned upon their fulfilling obligations [to the state], just as their obligations are not conditioned on the receipt of rights.”

The president will start the inauguration ceremonies by swearing in the oldest MK, Shimon Peres, 83 as temporary Knesset chairman. Peres, who began his political career under the tutelage of David Ben Gurion, will swear in the other members. Peres will read out the oath of office, obligating the MK’s to maintain loyalty to the State of Israel and their duties as members of the Knesset. Then, each member will recite his commitment when his name is called.

The inauguration of a new Knesset is one of the country’s most significant and prestigious political events, attended by the entire foreign diplomatic corps, members of the Supreme Court, the State Comptroller, past presidents and prime ministers, the IDF Chief-of-Staff, the Chief Rabbis, Police Commissioner, former MK’s, and leaders of ethnic minorities.

At the behest of Interim Prime Minster Olmert, the prime minister’s Knesset chair will remain empty in honor of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who left office involuntarily after suffering a debilitating stroke last January.

Olmert’s request to have the name on the chair read “Prime Minister Ariel Sharon” was denied because under Israeli law, Sharon ceased being prime minister last Friday, after 100 days had passed since becoming incapacitated.