Decision hinges on whether Hirchson is forced to quit over embezzlement scandal.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
Former justice minister Haim Ramon will complete his community service on a horse farm that helps special needs children in Tel Mond before he returns to political horse-trading.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Ramon decided in a meeting on Sunday that he would not rejoin the government at this stage even though the Tel Aviv District Court ruled on March 29 that his sexual harassment conviction would not bar him from returning to politics.
Ramon was sentenced to 120 hours of community service for forcibly kissing a 20-year-old female soldier. After he completes the 120 hours next month, Olmert and Ramon will meet again to determine his political future.
That meeting's timing depends on whether Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson is forced to resign over his own scandals in upcoming weeks. Both Olmert and Ramon are said to be interested in Ramon replacing Hirchson if he quits, but Olmert does not intend to try to force out Hirchson, a longtime political ally.
The fact that Olmert decided Ramon would not yet return is seen by political officials as a sign that Hirchson's departure is not imminent. Unless Hirchson leaves, there is no vacancy for Ramon in the cabinet.
Ramon has told officials close to him he had not ruled out retiring permanently from politics following the legal ordeal he had endured. They said he nearly quit politics three years ago and that he was considering going into business and avoiding public life.
But Ramon's confidants have also said he feels indebted to the prime minister for supporting him and he is interested in becoming finance minister.
Women's groups said last week that they would protest Ramon's return to the cabinet and would turn to the courts in an effort to prevent it.
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