Jerusalem – Reuven Rivlin has been selected as the 10th president of Israel, ending an ugly and hard-fought campaign to replace the outgoing head of state, Shimon Peres.
Rivlin received 63 votes in a second-round runoff on Tuesday in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. He defeated Meir Sheetrit, a centrist politician, who received 53 votes.
Rivlin is a former Knesset speaker and a member of Likud, the party headed by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
He received only reluctant support from the Netanyahu, however – the two men have a personal feud stretching back years. Netanyahu spent weeks trying to delay the election and recruit candidates to run against Rivlin. At one point he tried to recruit Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, who is not even an Israeli citizen.
The incoming president is a staunchly right-wing politician. He does not support Palestinian statehood, or an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank; instead, he has said he favours giving Israeli citizenship to Palestinians.
He has also been sharply critical of undemocratic laws introduced in the Knesset in recent years, particularly a bill to raise the electoral threshold, which would drive Palestinian parties out of the parliament.
The 90-year-old Peres restored some prestige to a presidency that had recently been tarnished by scandal. His predecessor, Moshe Katsav, is currently serving a seven-year jail term after being convicted of rape, while Ezer Weizman, who held the job before Katsav, retired early amid corruption charges.
It's no secret that I didn't vote for Reuven Rivlin. But we are from the same movement… which believes in true democracy and statehood,
The post is largely a ceremonial one, however, and Peres spent much of his term putting a friendlier face on the policies of an increasingly right-wing government. Rivlin has already said he will focus on domestic issues; his stance on the two-state solution, though, might have a symbolic impact, if not a substantive one.
“It might have made a difference if he had a lot of moral authority,” said Mark Heller, an analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies. “But it’s not enough to move the government in one direction or another, and whenever the president opens his mouth on these issues, he’s sharply reminded to stay out of politics.”
Netanyahu praised Rivlin after his win, calling him a “unifying” figure, and other politicians from both left and right offered their support. “It’s no secret that I didn’t vote for Reuven Rivlin,” said Tzipi Livni, the head of the centre-left HaTnuah party.
“But we are from the same movement… which believes in true democracy and statehood.”
Three other candidates, including a former Supreme Court justice and a chemist, were knocked out in the first round of voting.
The sixth declared candidate, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, dropped out of the race this weekend after police questioned him on allegations of corruption.