Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman reportedly will throw his weight behind former Knesset Chairwoman Dalia Itzik in the presidential race, if Water and Energy Minister Silvan Shalom withdraws over sex crime allegations.
Sources close to Liberman told Maariv that the foreign minister is leaning towards Itzik because of their good connections, and because he doesn't want to see the post taken by former Knesset speaker MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud). A poll in January found Rivlin favored for the position.
As noted, since last week Shalom has been embroiled in allegations that he sexually harassed several women.
The charges began with a woman who claimed to have been harassed 15 years ago by the minister when she worked in his office; Shalom denied knowing the woman. At the closure of the police investigation Tuesday, the file was closed on the charges given that the statute of limitations had expired on the case.
However, two additional women have come forward to complain against Shalom, apparently over accusations less than ten years old and therefore still valid under the statute of limitations.
Critics assert that the police decision to try Shalom on a case that obviously was no longer valid given its 15-year-old age was meant to bring forward other complainants. The original complaint was made somewhat suspicious given that it was submitted a week after Silvan began submitting his candidacy for president.
Some Likud members said the charge would lead Silvan to remove his candidacy, a notion Silvan's office rejected. Likud activist Uri Jan, who is close to Shalom, told IDF Radio on Tuesday that political rivals are trying to eliminate Shalom's candidacy.
As for the role of president, there has been talk of cancelling the position altogether. The ceremonial and symbolic function of president, who during a seven year term signs laws and international treaties but wields no actual executive power, can be transferred to other bodies, according to opponents of the post.
The presidential institution reportedly cost the state a whopping 62 million shekels ($17.6 million) in 2012, a figure 3 times higher than a decade earlier.