Even in his return to the political arena, Haim Ramon has proven that he can create political drama that is juicy, emotional and nerve-wracking.
The telephone call to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in which Ramon agreed to be in the cabinet did not come until 12:30 yesterday afternoon, only two days before the cabinet convened. Even though Olmert and his advisers were working on the assumption that Ramon would be unable to refuse his friend's request to be his right-hand man, the tension rose as time passed and the phone did not ring.
The ministers who were tipped for promotion fed off the scuttlebutt, while the media had a field day making predictions. And Ramon just took his own sweet time.
Those who witnessed Ramon's hesitations in the past two days say he genuinely wrestled with the decision. On the one hand, Ramon missed being in a position of influence, and Olmert promised him free access to the Prime Minister's Office.
On the other hand, the past year - since the kiss that ended in a conviction for molestation - has been one of personal stock-taking for Ramon. He lost his position as justice minister at the peak of his powers, and at 57, after 30 years in the political maelstrom, he perhaps thought it was time to leave.
On Saturday it looked like a done deal. He met with the outgoing cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon and spoke on the phone for 90 minutes with Olmert's deputy chief of staff, Oved Yehezkel. It was already clear that he would not be named finance minister.
Ramon agreed to be vice premier, but as the moment of truth approached his hesitation increased. He knew the appointment would lead to High Court of Justice petitions, as has happened, and questioned the wisdom of returning to the cabinet. "What do I need this for, let me go," he asked Olmert on Tuesday, but nevertheless left himself some wiggle room. Envoys and mediators were dispatched.
Yehezkel and Maimon maintained constant telephone contact with him, and in the end Ramon came through. Olmert is very appreciative of Olmert's political skills and his understanding of foreign affairs, and views him as his political rearguard in the Knesset, the cabinet and Kadima. As one of the founders of the party, Ramon is important to Kadima, and after Shimon Peres was elected president he became the sole former Labor member in the cabinet.
One of the peaks of Ramon's political career was the "big bang," of which he was one of the main proponents. In Ariel Sharon, whose government he served as a Labor Party minister, Ramon found a partner to his vision. Ramon, who was always close to prime ministers, became the minister who was closest to Sharon and the Sycamore Ranch bunch. He was a beloved member of the gang that ran the country, he was among the main supporters of the Gaza disengagement, which suited the unilateral withdrawal policy that he supported. And he never stopped promoting the vision of the big bang - the creation of a large, centrist, secular party.
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