(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Interior Minister Roni Bar-On withdrew himself from consideration for the vacant Justice portfolio on Sunday in a conversation with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Sources close to Bar-On said the decision was not made out of fear of a probe against him, as there has been against previous justice ministers.
They said Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz had said there was no problem with Bar-On receiving the post after he was cleared of charges in the 1997 Bar-On/Hebron scandal.
At the time, then-prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was accused of being pressured by Shas to appoint Bar-On justice minister ahead of Shas leader Aryeh Deri's trial on corruption charges, in exchange for Shas's support of Netanyahu's agreement to withdraw from parts of Hebron.
Olmert's associates said the call surprised him, but it was not a sign that Olmert had decided to appoint a justice minister who is not a politician.
Bar-On said he made the decision because he wanted to continue implementing projects he had started at the Interior Ministry, and Kadima mayors had asked Bar-On to remain interior minister for the sake of political stability.
Outsiders reportedly being considered to replace Haim Ramon as justice minister include former education minister Amnon Rubinstein, attorney Ram Kaspi and the former head of the Courts Authority, Boaz Okun. Okun stepped down from that position a few months ago following a fight with Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch.
In a meeting of Kadima ministers on Sunday, Olmert vowed to decide on a new justice minister by the end of the week. Negotiations over a cabinet reshuffle will officially begin on Monday when Olmert advisers Yisrael Maimon and Ovad Yehezkel meet with Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel and faction chairman Yoram Marciano.
Labor ministers sparred in a meeting earlier in the day over who would have to give up their portfolio in return for Labor receiving the Social Affairs Ministry, which has a relatively low budget.
National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer lashed out at Labor chairman Amir Peretz, whose allies have threatened to convene the party central committee to determine whether Labor should give up Ben-Eliezer's ministry, the Tourism portfolio of Isaac Herzog or Shalom Simhon's Agriculture portfolio.
"We are sick of waking up every morning to new political spin from you," Ben-Eliezer told Peretz, warning him that the central committee could decide that Peretz himself would have to give up his portfolio.
Marciano released a statement mocking the ministers and calling upon them to behave responsibly and decide among themselves who should give up his portfolio.
"It can't be that there is not one saint in Sodom among Labor ministers who will agree to be social affairs minister," said Marciano, who wants the post for himself. "The ministers should rise above their personal interests and give up a portfolio to allow Labor to maintain its integrity and its ideology."
The Labor faction will convene Monday to discuss the reshuffle. The faction is also expected to appoint MK Ophir Paz-Pines as head of the Knesset Interior Committee, in place of Labor MK Ghaleb Majadle, who replaced Paz-Pines in the cabinet.â€¢