Israel's newly elected President Reuven Rivlin greets supporters at the Western Wall in the Jerusalem's Old City on June 10, 2014
Israel's newly elected President Reuven Rivlin greets supporters at the Western Wall in the Jerusalem's Old City on June 10, 2014 © Menahem Kahana - AFP/File
Israel's newly elected President Reuven Rivlin greets supporters at the Western Wall in the Jerusalem's Old City on June 10, 2014
Daphne Rousseau, AFP
Last updated: June 11, 2014

Israel president Rivlin to usher in new era, say analysts

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The election of populist hawk Reuven Rivlin as Israeli president ushers in a new diplomatic era and highlights Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's growing isolation within his own party, analysts say.

The 74-year-old Jerusalem native 'Ruby' Rivlin -- a veteran member of Netanyahu's rightwing Likud party -- will succeed dovish elder statesman Shimon Peres, but is unlikely to make his presence felt anywhere near as much on the international stage.

"He will have a low profile, much lower than that of Peres, and is not a star on the international stage. His English isn't great and he's not at ease at cocktail parties," Emmanuel Navon, a member of Likud's central committee, told AFP.

Reuven Hazan, a politics chair at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, said Rivlin would respect the "largely... ceremonial and symbolic position" of the presidency.

In two terms as speaker, Rivlin was a "champion of the Israeli parliament against the Israeli government, even though he was a member of the majority," Hazan said.

"He championed the branch of government that he led."

In a secret ballot on Tuesday afternoon, MPs voted 63 to 53 in favour of the Likud hawk.

Rivlin has made no secret of his vision of a greater Israel encompassing all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

He is a staunch backer of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and has never hidden his opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state.

The Haaretz newspaper lamented his victory as a blow to the peace movement, putting it down to a failure by the Israeli left and centre to "gather around a suitable candidate."

But the left-leaning daily expressed confidence that Rivlin would respect the neutrality of the presidency, and would not try to stand in the way of a peace agreement, in the unlikely event one materialised during his term of office.

"If during his term, an Israeli government ever gets around to signing a peace agreement, with a heavy heart he will bow to the democratic decision and work on preserving the nation's unity through a traumatic retreat from the West Bank settlements he so loves," the paper said.

Hazan said Rivlin would more likely focus on bridging divisions in Israeli society.

Peres "was a foreign policy president. Reuven Rivlin will focus inside Israel and he will be a president for the people, the society, Israelis, hopefully bridging the gap between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs," he said.

- Netanyahu 'big loser' -

But analysts said the real loser from Rivlin's election to the presidency was Netanyahu, who had lobbied frantically against it but failed to carry his own Likud party.

Only at the 11th hour, after his efforts failed, did the prime minister offer his begrudging support to his longtime party rival.

"Netanyahu is the big loser, not just because he's had problems with a president whose life he has tried to make a living hell, but also because the election revealed his weakness within his own party," political commentator Rina Matzliah told Israel's Channel 2 television.

Likud central committee member Navon agreed, saying: "Netanyahu now looks like a lame duck."

The two men put on brave faces at a meeting on Wednesday, with Netanyahu wishing his sworn enemy "great success," and Rivlin looking forward to their "future collaboration".

But Hazan predicted that, although Rivlin himself would steer clear of any fight, eventually the prime minister would face a party revolt.

"At some point, when somebody is capable of challenging him, all the enemies will come out of woodwork and circle wagons against Netanyahu," he said.

"But it won't be Rivlin, because, as president, he cannot challenge him. He's removed from the political fray, he doesn't have any influence whatsoever, and so he'll probably take the high road."

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