Prime Minister Ehud Olmert received rare uplifting news from legal authorities on Thursday when the Tel Aviv District Court decided that former justice minister Haim Ramon could return to politics despite his sexual harassment conviction. Olmert, who has been plagued by a long string of legal headaches over the past year, welcomed the possibility that he could soon have back at his side the seasoned political veteran and trusted adviser who played a central role in Kadima's formation.
Ramon considers returning to politics
Sources close to Ramon said he would decide whether to return to action after Pessah, following a key meeting with Olmert set for April 9. Olmert is expected to pressure Ramon in the meeting to accept the next senior portfolio that becomes available, perhaps the Treasury if Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson is forced to resign.
But Olmert's associates said the prime minister's hands were tied as long as Hirchson remained in his post, because he would have no portfolio to offer Ramon, at least until another cabinet reshuffle, expected after the May 28 Labor leadership race.
"The prime minister wants Ramon to come back in a position of leadership, but currently, he cannot even consider the possibility of replacing Hirchson," a source close to Olmert said.
Ramon nearly quit politics three years ago. A source close to him said Ramon's political career could now be over, but that Olmert could still persuade him to return since the prime minister remained loyal to him throughout his legal proceedings.
Former political allies of Ramon who spoke to him after Thursday's ruling were divided over whether he would decide to return to politics or to enter the business world.
While most said he would only return to a position at least as prestigious as the Justice portfolio he left behind, others suggested that instead of returning straight to the front lines, he take a smaller, behind-the-scenes role and work his way back up.
While Ramon's supporters in the Knesset said they hoped he would return to political life as soon as possible, National Union-National Religious Party MKs Zevulun Orlev and Zvi Hendel called Ramon's potential return disgraceful. Hendel accused the judges of caving in to "a blatant and hypocritical campaign by the Left."
Whoever wins the Labor race is expected to bring his allies into the cabinet in a political reshuffle, especially party leadership candidate Ami Ayalon, who wants MK Avishay Braverman to become finance minister.
At a rally of more than 1,000 supporters at Labor's Tel Aviv headquarters on Thursday, Ayalon accused Olmert's government of lacking morality.
"This is a government that is hollow, arrogant, blatant and hedonist, that misleads the public instead of telling them the truth," Ayalon said, purposely speaking from the middle of the room instead of from the stage. "It's a leadership that prefers narrow, political interests to national considerations, the egocentric leadership of one man, who doesn't understand teamwork. This leadership led Israel to failure in the war."
Ayalon cashed in on his endorsement of Vice Premier Shimon Peres for the presidency by attracting hundreds of former Peres supporters in Labor, including key activists, to the event.