Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn't surprise us - this time, too, he failed to stand up to the pressure. This time, too, Likud MKs scared him so much he changed his position and threw a few knickknacks to the kids so they'd stop bothering him.
Once upon a time we had a different Netanyahu - the kind who didn't sway with every light breeze. He had firm economic principles, which he would carry out by taking unpopular steps. But in those days, in 2003, he had the brick wall of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon behind him. Now he has himself - shifting sands and hysteria.
On Wednesday night he announced he was reducing the gasoline tax by 10 agorot after telling his aides that morning we shouldn't meddle with gasoline prices because any attempt would merely raise the deficit or lead to the increasing of other taxes. Netanyahu carried out this hasty step entirely against the advice of the finance minister and his senior colleagues, who had said they would "stand on their hind legs" to prevent this. He betrayed and belittled Yuval Steinitz, the man most loyal to him. That teaches us something about character.
Until Steinitz's appointment as finance minister, a move like that would have been unthinkable. A finance minister would not have allowed a tax reduction without increasing another tax at the same time. That was how the finance ministers watched over the treasury. That's how we haven't deteriorated into deficits and crises of the Greek kind. If Steinitz had self-respect, he would have immediately placed a resignation letter on Netanyahu's table. The director of the budgets department, Gal Hershkovitz, should also resign after the hazing he underwent.
Netanyahu's decision is especially grave because he knows that the global recession has shrunk companies' profits, leading to a sharp drop in tax revenue. Netanyahu now knows we can expect a large deficit of 3.4 percent of gross domestic product instead of the originally planned 2 percent.
He is also aware that the Bank of Israel recently announced there's a dangerous deviation of NIS 6.4 billion on the expenditure side. So how can a prime minister increase the deficit when he should be reducing it?
The funniest thing was to hear the MKs crying about the sad fate of the people who are forced to pay so much for gasoline. As if the MKs weren't involved. As if the pressure from the Israeli government on the West to impose sanctions on Iran weren't the sole reason for the steep increase in gasoline prices around the world.
Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud ) announced that the excise tax must be reduced by a few agorot. Meir Sheetrit (Kadima ) overtook him easily when he proposed that we cancel the value added tax that is imposed on excise tax. In other words: Reduce gasoline prices by 50 agorot, no less. If Sheetrit had bothered to check, he would have seen that in Western European countries like Italy, the Netherlands, Greece, Sweden, Germany, Belgium and Britain, gasoline prices are even higher than here, as is the tax. But what do they know compared to Sheetrit?
As was to be expected, Miri Regev (Likud ) declared that NIS 8 per liter was an abuse of the public. Yoel Hasson (Kadima ) demanded that the tax be cut by 30 percent while Ofir Akunis (Likud ) said the Finance Ministry officials were being hard-hearted. Okay, he doesn't dare speak out against his boss. But all of them were dwarfed by Energy and Water Resources Minister Uzi Landau, who demanded that gasoline prices be dropped to NIS 5 or NIS 6. He hasn't decided which.
These populists (and I haven't mentioned them all ) don't tell us how the hundreds of millions missing from the coffers will be replaced if their proposals are accepted. The dangerous deficit is of no interest to them. Their job is just to dish out and curry favor with the public.
Not one of them mentioned that the heavy gasoline tax has an another aim - to cut down car use because of environmental and health hazards like pollution and traffic jams.
But why should they bother with logic? After all, Netanyahu just wants us to love and admire him. He wants us to dance with joy over the knickknacks he has given us worth 10 agorot apiece.
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