Ramon and the Knesset / The Most Unfulfilled Promise

The plasma TV screen in the Knesset cafeteria carried the images and sounds from the courthouse. The diners froze in their places for a moment. Their food threatened to stick in their throats as they heard about former justice minister Haim Ramon's conviction for forcibly kissing a female soldier, but they recovered quickly and went back to what they were doing.

The image remained visible for several more minutes, but few lifted their heads to watch. In their eyes, Ramon is already history.

Ramon had been an inseparable part of the Knesset for many years. He was the best commentator, the most up-to-date source, the closest aide, the one who gave the most convincing explanation - and he was the most unfulfilled promise. Even when he made a mistake, he did so with charm. Ramon was the first to call for the pullout from Gaza, the first to call for the construction of a security fence and the first to shake up the fossilized Israeli politics. He toppled the unity government headed by Yitzhak Shamir in 1990 and the Netanyahu government in 1998.

And yet it was Ramon - the politician who knew how to advise prime ministers, to whisper in their ears during a crisis - who failed tragically to manage his own private life.

The tactics employed by Ramon and his prestigious defense team were disastrous. If Ramon had announced at the beginning of the trial, four months ago, that he had made a mistake and would like to apologize to the complainant for his lapse in judgment, it's doubtful that he would have been convicted.

Former Shas leader Aryeh Deri, who served time on corruption charges, told Army Radio that he advised his friend Ramon to keep a low profile rather than defend himself in the media. If Ramon had listened to that advice, he would not be ending his political career as a sex offender, something he is not. The three-second kiss was a stupid, unnecessary act.

Ramon's conviction is a blow to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who had hoped his good friend would be acquitted and would return to the government - the same way that someone wandering in the desert hopes for a glass of cold water. But that cold water has been overturned on Olmert's head. Next week he will engage in political bargaining in an effort to get the government back on its unstable feet.