The Government / An Alliance of Suspects

The yawning public indifference that greeted the finance minister's forced leave is a testament to his stature. Abraham Hirchson was the minister who wasn't there, even when he was.

In different circumstances, a finance minister suspending himself would have shaken the economy and sent shock waves through the political system. But in Israel of 2007, which is preparing itself for the political and security tsunami of the Winograd Report, Hirchson's evaporation is a small matter.

Hirchson's decision to suspend himself from office for three months is good for himself, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his rumored stand-in, Haim Ramon, who is dubbed the "horse whisperer" in political circles.

The decision serves Hirchson because it implies that he is going on leave temporarily and will be back soon. It gives Olmert an extension until Ramon finishes serving his sentence, the fallout from the Winograd Report settles (or doesn't), and the winner of Labor's leadership primary, to be held in just over a month, becomes known. It is go od for Ramon because he, too, wants to wait and see what becomes of the government and whether it survives at all.

A veteran politician yesterday called this convergence of interests "an alliance of suspects."

Olmert's return to the Finance Ministry also failed to elicit any excitement, despite the investigations against him and the huge load he is carrying. God knows where he will find the time, energy and attention for treasury matters. Even without the Winograd threat and the political uproar it may cause, Olmert has enough to do. In the treasury, the expected clashes with Yaron Zelekha alone will take up half of his time. But at least he will enjoy himself.

The chances of Hirchson's returning to the Finance Ministry as anything but a lobbyist or wheeler-dealer are zero, according to the police. Thus the creeping reshuffle that has become the hallmark of Olmert's cabinet continues: Ministers are being replaced one after another without having to be fired. The ministers of justice, tourism and social affairs have been replaced, the finance minister is on his way out, Minister of Strategic Threats Avigdor Lieberman was questioned by the police for hours yesterday and the next to go - due to political, rather than criminal, developments - is Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

Quite an output for a government that is not even a year old. In a few weeks, Olmert will be able to present a new cabinet to the public - on condition that he himself is still there.