Netanyahu, short on time

Israeli protesters demand social reforms from a government obsessed with the Palestinians

Benjamin Netanyahu's government in Israel has decided to create a commission to address the demands of thousands of Israelis who last weekend filled the country's streets calling for improved social policies and, in particular, access to decent housing. This widespread protest in Israel has come at a delicate moment for the governing coalition, since it opens an internal front just when, on the external diplomatic front, an initiative which Netanyahu has been trying to stop at all costs may prosper in spite of his efforts: the declaration of a Palestinian state by the United Nations.

The demonstrations of those who have already come to be known as the Israeli Indignation movement show that the conflict with the Palestinians has ceased to function as an overriding factor of Israeli cohesion, to which all other problems besetting the country took second place.

The habitual government rhetoric about the exterior enemy, which has long served as a smokescreen, can now no longer hide the fact that the Israelis expect of their government not only security, but also a more effective handling of the day-to-day issues which most affect them. In Tel Aviv and other cities people have come out in the street not to clamor for anything to do with peace or war, but to draw attention to general living conditions that are becoming more and more degraded.

The demonstrators preferred not to take any well-defined position on the occupation of Palestinian territory, being aware that this might be a cause of division among them. But they do complain that the policy of gradually encroaching settlements in the West Bank being carried out by the government, bent on illegally colonizing a territory that does not belong to it, gravely distorts the Israeli state's capacity to cope with the problem of housing.

The opposition accuses the government of lacking any strategy other than that of stalling for time, and rightly so. Netanyahu, indeed, needs time if the coalition that keeps him in power is not to break up under the many pressures to which it is being subjected. He also needs time if the simmering internal protests are not to overlap with what may happen in September, whether or not the bid to declare a Palestinian state is successful. And lastly, he needs time because the only objective on which the various forces that make up his government seem to be in agreement is that of staying in power.

Unsure of what to do, the Israeli government is buying time at the cost of inaction - however much it has endeavored to conceal this inaction behind a façade of emphatic rhetoric, or of commissions such as the one recently created to appease a wave of protests on a scale heretofore unknown in Israel.

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