haim ramon hand on head.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
If Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decides to appoint former justice minister Haim Ramon as minister in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will block the move, sources close to her said Wednesday.
Ramon completed his sentence of 120 hours of community service for his sexual harassment conviction over the weekend at a horse farm in Tel Mond. He is expected to return to active work in the Knesset on Monday and to the cabinet after the May 28 Labor primary when Olmert intends to reshuffle his cabinet.
Although Ramon has been rumored for weeks to be the leading candidate for finance minister, Army Radio reporter Idan Kweller revealed that Olmert was instead leaning toward appointing him as either a minister or coordinator in charge of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, a position parallel to that of the PA's Saeb Erekat.
Such an appointment would take away one of the central responsibilities of Livni, Olmert's main rival in Kadima. It would also break a promise Olmert gave Livni following former prime minister Ariel Sharon's January 2006 stroke. She decided not to run against Olmert for Kadima leader at the time in return for assurances she would be foreign minister and involved in negotiations with the Palestinians.
Sources close to Livni warned Olmert that the Kadima faction would not tolerate such an infringement on the foreign minister's domain. They said it was customary that the prime minister handled diplomatic ties with the United States but that the Palestinians are part of the foreign minister's authority.
"If she can no longer deal with the Palestinians, what is she left with, Micronesia?" an irate Livni supporter in the Kadima faction said. "I advise the prime minister not to try to be a hero, because he is playing with fire and risking killing Kadima."
Another Kadima MK said the Kadima faction would prevent Olmert from returning Ramon to the cabinet at Livni's expense.
"Olmert would have to be an idiot to try to do that," the MK said.
A coalition of women's organizations that has threatened to petition the High Court of Justice if Olmert appointed Ramon expressed shock that the prime minister would put a convicted sex offender in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians.
Coalition spokeswoman Dorit Abramovitch said a campaign against Ramon's appointment and protests outside Olmert's Jerusalem residence would begin soon.
"Before he accepts such a job, Ramon needs to learn a lesson on how to negotiate with Israeli women and how not to violate their security," Abramovitch said. "Olmert is violating Israeli women by returning Ramon to the government, and we will not let him rest until he overturns this haphazard decision."
Olmert's associates said no decision had been made yet about what position Ramon would receive if he returned to the cabinet.
Ramon received unlikely backing from United Arab List MK Ahmed Tibi, who is close to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
"I think it's much better for Israel to have a convicted sex offender in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians than to have a man who should be convicted of war crimes," he said.
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