Netanyahu in the Knesset.
Netanyahu in the Knesset. Photo by Shiran Granot
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For almost two months, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to answer the question that awaits his decision: Will there be a 2013 budget, or will he call early elections instead of trying to get the budget passed?

Two very problematic issues are directly related to this question. One is his insufferable foot-dragging with regard to making a decision. As far back as August, Netanyahu knew just how serious the problem was. He knew the 2013 budget was liable to be one of the most difficult budgets ever submitted. He knew the budget would have to include deep cuts, to the tune of NIS 12-15 billion. He knew it wouldn't be easy to run for reelection after passing such a budget, but also that time was running out, and that the budget had to be passed soon.

Netanyahu knew all this very well, but has nevertheless been procrastinating for two months. He has thereby wasted valuable time, at the state's expense.

The second problem is that his equivocation is, in the final analysis, entirely political. Calling early elections won't change the budgetary situation; regardless of whether the next government is headed by Netanyahu or by someone else, it will still have to slash the budget by that same NIS 12-15 billion. Early elections merely postpones the inevitable.

Therefore, the decision on whether to call early elections is entirely personal: Netanyahu is trying to decide which scenario offers him a better chance of being elected for another term.

The fact that a prime minister's own political interests, rather than the good of the economy, is the determining factor in such a critical decision is liable to prove costly to Israeli citizens. Netanyahu isn't suffering emotional anguish over the economy; his angst is entirely over how many Knesset seats his party is likely to win should he call early elections instead of passing the budget now.

The price that Israel would pay for months of delay in passing this crucial budget - during which time the government would have to rely on a temporary budget that isn't suited to its needs - is of no concern to Netanyahu. All that matters is that he be elected prime minister for a third time.