Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu must be kicking himself as the Knesset enters the final days of its summer session this week.

Had he not buckled at the very last minute and cancelled his plans for calling early elections, he would now be only a couple of months away from an easy victory and his third term in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Instead, as polls in a weekend paper showed, his decision to bind his fate to the haredim and scuttle negotiations with Kadima over the issue of IDF conscription for all Jewish males has severely weakened his standing among the Israeli public, bringing the Likud down to only 25 projected mandates and Labor up to 21.

Actually, the question as to whether Netanyahu can kick himself is debatable, given the torn ligament in his left leg he suffered last month while playing football with Jewish and Arab children as part of a tourism promotion campaign.

Due to his injury (with which I do sympathize, having recently torn my calf muscle playing cricket, showing that Netanyahu and I have at least one thing in common – the idiocy of middle- aged men thinking they can recapture their youth), Netanyahu needs to wear a cast.

Disappointingly, Netanyahu and his media advisers are doing their utmost to ensure there is no official footage showing the prime minister turning up for work on crutches. Instead, as if this temporary disability is something to be ashamed of, Netanyahu is only photographed once he’s seated at the cabinet table and not while he is making his way to his office.

While one can understand the prime minister’s reluctance to give newspapers the chance to run headlines such as “Bibi limps along,” a true leader would rise above this and use this temporary discomfort as a means to highlight the challenges faced daily by people with a permanent disability.

Netanyahu is not known for his sensitivity towards society’s less fortunate; this sporting accident gave him the opportunity to rectify this. He could have parlayed his injury to prove that no one is invulnerable to the whims of fate and shown that the disabled need to be treated with the respect and consideration the able-bodied receive.

Instead, he chose to hide.

Of course, the truth is that the prime minister is limping along. His failure to utilize a 94-member governing coalition and introduce the far-reaching changes this country needs is a complete failure of leadership and a sign of utter political ineptitude. If Netanyahu had no intention of introducing some form of universal conscription for all Jewish males, then why did he invite Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz to join his government and postpone the early elections that were on the verge of being declared? For the sake of a few more months of power, in which he will do no more than tread water, Netanyahu has hampered his own reelection campaign. It is now clearer than ever that a vote for the Likud is also a vote for the veto power of the haredi parties, who are determined to foist their immoral and economically unsustainable way of life on the backs of Israel’s diminishing middle class.

In an attempt to deflect criticism away from the haredim, Shas leader Eli Yishai recently made the malicious argument that “first we have to check the number of conscripts from north Tel Aviv before we make problems for the haredim.”

And so Haaretz economic commentator Nehemia Shtrasler did just that.

Examining the secular high schools of north Tel Aviv, Shtrasler found that “the conscription rate among graduates of Ironi Yud Daled is 99 percent, at Lady Davis, Alliance and Tichon Hadash it’s 96%, at Ironi Daled it’s 94%, at Gymnasia Herzliya it’s 90%, at Ironi Heh it’s 88%, and at Ironi Alef [where those lefties and arty types study] it’s 95%... On the other hand, evasion by the haredim stands at 90%.”

But it's not just Netanyahu’s his failure to seize the moment and change the unjust haredi exemption from the IDF that will harm him at the polls. The social protest movement will continue to chip away at the prime minister’s standing while a slowing economy hardly provides an encouraging backdrop for an incumbent prime minister.

If, as likely, the next elections are scheduled for February, this government will avoid introducing a state budget for 2013, given that next year’s budget will have to include both spending cuts and tax hikes in order to control Israel’s budget deficit and protect the country’s international credit rating. This means government spending for 2013 will remain at its 2012 levels until a new government passes a budget, so all the goodies recommended by the Trajtenberg Committee, such as free preschool education, won’t go into effect.

And all this, combined with a weakening shekel, due to both a general strengthening of the dollar on international markets and foreign investors’ fears concerning the possibilities of an Israeli strike against Iran, leads to an inevitable conclusion: Netanyahu’s stock on the electoral market is deservedly falling.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

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