ANALYSIS / Netanyahu Capitulates to Pressure, Again

After 100 days in office, Prime Minister reneges on his main electoral promise - to cut taxes.

The celebration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's first 100 days in office began Monday as Netanyahu again bowed to pressure and gave up his main electoral promise, to cut taxes.

On the way to his 101st day, Netanyahu signaled to partners and adversaries alike that if pressure did not work, a little more pressure would. A few weeks after Kadima chairwoman MK Tzipi Livni mocked him from the Knesset rostrum to "be a man and give in," Netanyahu indeed gave in.

He gave in to his self-satisfied coalition partners, for whom he split portfolios and bloated his cabinet to godzillian proportions. Would any of those partners bolt the government? Would Shas, which has not yet digested the generous addition to the children's allowances and the funding for its yeshivas, go to elections over VAT on fruits and vegetables? To end up with Livni? Would Labor, which remembered unfashionably late to jump onto the VAT bandwagon, instigate elections, in order to disappear completely from the map?

Netanyahu has humiliated his finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, repeatedly. Not even Steinitz deserves such treatment. True, Bibi is the supra-minister of economic strategy, but Monday he proved that above all he is the mega-minister of political survival.

Not every decision Netanyahu made in recent months was a mistake. Some were good for the country. But he always made them for the wrong reasons, very late, gritting his teeth.

Ariel Sharon knew how to be generous to his coalition partners. But he also knew how to put them in their place. Seven years ago, when the Shas ministers voted against the budget, he sent them dismissal letters and they begged his forgiveness. That is what Netanyahu should do: go wild, threaten elections, show that nobody fools with him. But he has shown he can be fooled with, and how.