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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu staged an illusory spectacle of struggling to make a critical decision this week over the deal to bring back captive soldier Gilad Shalit.

Netanyahu called frequent consultations with the forum of seven senior ministers and heads of the defense establishment and met with the Shalit family and bereaved families of terror victims.

He even implied that the weight of the decision had made him ill. But the discussions and deliberations ended, as before, with nothing decided.

Netanyahu's government rejected the German mediator's proposal and is insisting on banishing about 100 of the Palestinian terrorists to be released in the deal to the Gaza Strip, Arab states or Europe - so long as they don't roam freely in the West Bank.

Hamas insists on having all the released prisoners return home. The gap between the positions makes it clear that the negotiations will continue and Shalit will remain in captivity for the time being.

One can understand Netanyahu's agonizing. He of all people, who built his public career on a staunch stand against terror, must now deny his principles and free people who are responsible for terror attacks that caused hundreds of deaths. Every terror attack after the deal will be seen as his responsibility and the right wing will accuse him of encouraging terror.

As time elapses, the prime minister has to explain why the deal is being held up and eventually persuade the public that he managed to get a better deal out of Hamas than his predecessor Ehud Olmert.

As a result, Netanyahu is evading the decision and trying, as he always does, to please everyone. He wants to show that he is acting on behalf of the Shalit family and the deal's supporters, while making demands of Hamas that the deal's opposers will approve of.

But this result is insufferable. Netanyahu was elected to lead and decide. By dragging his feet in the Shalit affair he has forsaken his duty as prime minister.

The deal's framework was agreed on in Olmert's term and Netanyahu has not succeeded in changing it in his nine months in office.

Deporting the released prisoners will change nothing, if instead of returning to the West Bank - where they will be supervised by the Shin Bet and Palestinian Authority - they will travel the world, planning terror attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets.

Instead of wasting any more time on futile one-upmanship games with Hamas, Netanyahu must say: It stops here. It's time to decide. End Gilad and his family's suffering and bring the soldier home.