Israel’s parliament on Tuesday chose Reuven Rivlin, a veteran politician and supporter of the Jewish settlement movement, as the country’s next president, putting a man opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state into the ceremonial, but influential post.
Rivlin, a stalwart of the ruling Likud Party, now faces the tough task of succeeding Israeli President Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who became an all-star on the international stage.
The 90-year-old Peres, whose political career stretches back decades and is an proponent of peace with the Palestinians, brought the office of the president international renown. He also restored honor to the position after it was tarnished by his predecessor, Moshe Katsav, being convicted of rape.
While Israel’s presidency is largely ceremonial, Rivlin’s political views could be a liability when he represents the country overseas. His opposition to Palestinian independence puts him at odds with the international community and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Rivlin dismissed speculation that he might be upset at Netanyahu, who tried to block his candidacy, saying he was “not angry at anyone.”
In a bid to lay to rest the rivalry, Netanyahu congratulated Rivlin and said he would work with him.
“I know you will do all you can as president and I promise that I as prime minister ... will do the same with you,” he said.
Rivlin is to be sworn into office for a single, seven-year term on July 24. The 74-year-old lawmaker has previously served as speaker of parliament and as an Israeli Cabinet minister. He has been a longtime supporter of Jewish settlements in occupied lands claimed by the Palestinians. While rejecting Palestinian independence, he has proposed a special union with the Palestinians in which Jews and Arabs would hold common citizenship, but vote for separate parliaments.
The president is meant to serve as a unifying figure and moral compass for the country and Rivlin has said that in contrast to Peres, he would focus on domestic affairs if selected.
Speaking at a Knesset ceremony to celebrate his win, Rivlin said his new role “commits me to remove the robe of politics,” in an indication that he may subdue his political beliefs as president.
“I am not a man of a [political] movement. I am a man of everyone. A man of the people,” he said.
While most political power is held by the prime minister, the president plays several key roles, with the power to pardon prisoners and choose the prime minister after national elections.
In this role, the president selects a Knesset member to form a majority coalition after elections. This has usually been the leader of the party with the most seats in parliament, but with the rise of a number of midsize parties in parliament, Rivlin could theoretically have more influence over choosing the prime minister.