Analysis / End Justifies the Means

Politics creates strange bedfellows - in this case, Benjamin Netanyahu, Zevulun Orlev, Haim Oron and Ariel Sharon.

Politics creates strange bedfellows - in this case, Benjamin Netanyahu, Zevulun Orlev, Haim Oron and Ariel Sharon. Each has a different interest in removing the disengagement plan from the state budget.

Netanyahu wants it removed because he has concluded that the time is not yet ripe for challenging Sharon for the Likud leadership. It would be better, he decided, to remain as finance minister for another year, finish the reforms he began, let the economy recover and unemployment decline. Then he would become known as the great reformer, the man who rescued the economy - a major long-term political asset.

Orlev, of the National Religious Party, is under heavy pressure from party leader Effi Eitam and the settlers to quit the government now. But he likes his job as welfare minister and wants to keep it. He also believes it would be a mistake to quit before the cabinet formally approves evacuating settlements. So for now, he wants the government to survive, which means the budget must be passed - and that is only possible if the disengagement is removed.

Oron, a Yahad MK, wants the disengagement to take place, and he knows that if the budget does not pass by March 31, elections will be held three months later and the disengagement will die. But Yahad is not willing to vote for Netanyahu's economic program itself. Therefore, Oron wants the right to be able to support the budget - and preferably, without the government needing to buy Shas' support.

Sharon's interest is clear: survival. For that purpose, he is now conducting two choirs: the leftist disengagement choir (Shinui, Labor, Yahad and part of Likud) and the rightist budgetary choir (the entire Likud, Shinui, NRP and National Union).

From the standpoint of democratic procedure, it is inappropriate to pass the budget in two pieces. Therefore, this must not become the norm. But under the circumstances, with the political situation as complicated as it is, the end justifies the means. To implement the disengagement and save Israel's future, it is acceptable to pass the budget in two parts.

From an economic standpoint, it does not make much difference whether the budget passes in one piece or two. True, a supplementary budget has been submitted only once since 1985 (in 1995, when Labor increased public-sector wages), and it is certainly very important to abide by economic programs, to create stability and credibility. But in this case, a decision to increase the budget deficit to 3.4 percent has already been made, and the extra 0.4 percent (NIS 2 billion) is already earmarked for the disengagement. Therefore, from a macroeconomic perspective, everyone already knows the size of the 2005 budget and its deficit.