olmert scary 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert denied reports on Wednesday that he put off appointing a finance minister because of an ultimatum from MK Haim Ramon that he will quit politics if he is not given the post.
Olmert's office released a statement saying the prime minister would decide how to fill the vacancy in the Finance Ministry and other appointments by next Wednesday. The statement said the delay occurred because Olmert wanted to examine the issue in depth and further consultations were necessary, and not because of Ramon.
"The reports that the delay occurred because of an ultimatum that was given to the prime minister are incorrect," Olmert said. "As I said in the past, I respect Ramon and see him as a fitting candidate to fill a significant post in public life.
"My conversation with him did not include threats or ultimatums in any way, shape or form, and it's unfortunate that there are those who are trying to create this mistaken impression."
But sources close to Ramon told The Jerusalem Post that Ramon did in fact make clear to Olmert that his two options were becoming finance minister or leaving public life for the private sector. They said Ramon spoke to Olmert as a friend and not in the form of an ultimatum, but that Olmert could have interpreted Ramon's potential departure from political life as a threat to his political standing, because he depends on Ramon as a trusted ally.
"Haim would not turn down the Finance Ministry, but he has a large pension from serving for so long in the Knesset and the cabinet, and if he is not given the job, he can feel free to begin a new path in life," a source close to Ramon said.
In a meeting at the Prime Minister's Office on Tuesday, Olmert's advisers warned him of the public criticism he would get for appointing Ramon. Olmert is expected to meet over the coming days with business leaders, the politicians expected to be promoted and legal advisers who will tell him whether Ramon's appointment would withstand a challenge in the High Court of Justice.
A coalition of women who have been sexually assaulted sent Olmert a letter saying that appointing Ramon would be "grave collaboration with a sex offender" and vowing to embarrass the prime minister with an appeal to the High Court if Ramon were appointed. Kadima MK Amira Dotan, who was the IDF's first female brigadier-general and head of its Women's Corps, told Olmert that appointing Ramon would be "an affront to women."
A source close to Olmert said the leading candidate for finance minister was Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, but that Ramon and Construction and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit were still being considered. The source said the delay was primarily intended to allow Ramon to "come down from the tree and accept his fate."
Sheetrit, who is considered a long shot because of his political activity against Olmert, said the prime minister invited him to a meeting on Sunday, which went well. He said Olmert did not raise any objections to his behavior.
"It's true that I am preparing just in case the final Winograd Report forces Olmert to quit, but there is nothing wrong with that," Sheetrit said. "There is no professional reason not to appoint me. If the decision is purely about who is right for the Finance Ministry, I will be chosen, because especially in the current situation, we need someone with experience who will not have to learn on the job." Sheetrit has served in the Finance Ministry in the past.
In an effort to prepare for the final Winograd Report's release, now expected in October, the Labor central committee will meet next week to pass new party Chairman Ehud Barak and MK Ophir Paz-Pines's proposal to leave the coalition if Olmert does not quit by the time the report is released.
At the Caesarea Conference in Haifa on Wednesday, business leaders complained about Olmert's lack of haste in appointing a finance minister, which will be addressed by the High Court on Thursday.
Israel Manufacturers' Association President Shraga Brosh said at the event, "The decision to delay the appointment of a finance minister is a mistake."
Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Chairman Eli Hurvitz added, "The economy won't collapse without a finance minister, but it needs a captain."