Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson submitted his resignation from the cabinet Sunday ahead of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's expected appointment of Interior Minister Roni Bar-On to replace him as part of a cabinet reshuffle Wednesday. Kadima sources said Olmert would announce the appointments as early as Monday and bring them to a vote in the Knesset on Wednesday. Sources close to Olmert said one of the reasons he chose Bar-On over MK Haim Ramon was to avoid the protests that would have ensued had he appointed Ramon, who was convicted of sexual harassment, amid the controversy over president Moshe Katsav's plea bargain.
Analysis: Rewarding loyalists
Olmert is also expected to make several other appointments. Bar-On will be replaced as interior minister by either Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim or Construction and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit.
Minister-without-Portfolio Ya'acov Edri could replace Boim or Sheetrit or become Negev and Galilee development minister. Knesset House Committee chair Ruhama Avraham or MK Majallie Whbee could join the cabinet. Druse Kadima members held a rally on Sunday in favor of Whbee joining the government.
Olmert decided to create a new portfolio for Ramon, taking President-elect Shimon Peres's former title as vice premier and making Ramon the minister in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians, among other issues. A coalition of women's groups has vowed to appeal to the High Court of Justice to prevent Ramon's appointment no matter what cabinet post he is given.
Olmert's office released a statement Sunday night saying he had not made up his mind on the appointments and would not comment on such speculation.
Sources close to Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he opposed the addition to the cabinet of Ramon, his longtime rival, especially in a position where he could take away responsibilities from Barak. Barak appointed MK Matan Vilna'i as his deputy on Sunday.
Hirchson suspended himself from the cabinet more than two months ago to fight embezzlement allegations against him. He intends to remain an MK, but only entered the Knesset once since he suspended himself to cast a vote for Peres. Olmert will continue as interim finance minister for the time being.
"I promised my family I would devote all my time to clearing my name," Hirchson wrote in his resignation letter. "Unfortunately, the path toward proving my innocence is long and depends on many people who I am waiting for to finish their work. Out of personal responsibility, I am resigning to clear the way for a new finance minister, who can devote his full effort to helping the economy grow and fighting unemployment and poverty."
Hirchson thanked Olmert in the letter for his personal and professional support, his encouragement and his friendship. The resignation will take effect on Tuesday at 9 a.m., 48 hours after it was submitted.
In Sunday's cabinet meeting, Olmert wished Hirchson well and praised him for "putting the good of the country ahead of his own personal interest." He said he believed in Hirchson's innocence.
Hirchson has yet to be indicted on any charges, and police are dragging their feet in turning the case files over to the prosecutors. He was last questioned in late April, when police said there would be at least one more interrogation.
Police have allegedly investigated embezzlement from the March of the Living, money changing hands at the National Workers' Union and receipt of special medical perks at the expense of the same union. But they have not said whether the investigations have led to viable cases or unfounded rumors and allegations.