One might say that this is a hell of a way to run a government, and then argue whether the reference is to Israel or the United States.


Here the quarrel is whether the problem is housing, medicine or the government. There it is the stubbornness of Republicans in Congress and the Democrats in the White House, about an issue that could cause great harm to the United States and the rest of us.


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The headline across the front page of Ha''aretz on Tuesday was the paper''s survey showing 87 percent supporting the demonstrators. The secondary headline said that Bibi''s popularity had slipped from 52 to 32 percent.


In order to deal with the domestic crises, the Prime Minister canceled a European trip meant to shore up support for Israel''s position in advance of the September meeting of the United Nations. Wags are saying that he would prefer to concentrate on the country''s problems with Palestine and Turkey, rather than with domestic issues that have brought students, physicians, and others to the streets. Standing up to Palestinians and Turks will strengthen him at home, while all those demonstrators might end his career.


An intense round of meetings involving the Prime Minister produced intentions to make more land available for housing, steps to assure that contractors will build more apartments for rent, measures to control prices, and give preferences to young couples and individuals who have done their military service. 




It will not satisfy young physicians threatening mass resignations if there is not the opening of another 1,000 places for hospital residencies, and considerable relief of their work schedules. 


There are problems in knowing just what will quiet this restive nation. Housing protesters made some effort to join forces with physicians, but the physicians resisted. And housing protesters have quarreled with those among themselves who want to emphasize a broad range of social issues beyond housing.


At the extreme, some are talking of economic revolution. Somewhat more moderately, others are talking about doing something about the concentration of economic power in the hands of too few companies or families. Cottage cheese is somewhere in this muddle, but that is confused by demonstrations of farmers against proposals to control the prices they receive. According to the people who milk the cows, the problem is with too few dairies and supermarket chains, and the portions of the final price they receive.


Among the chants is one that rhymes in Hebrew if not in English, "Good morning, Bibi, the nation is on the streets, calling for justice not charity." There are hints of the disputes among demonstrators in the final clause. Some want a narrow concern with housing, while others want to open the government''s coffers and provide financial allocations for a wide range of social demands.


If there is something that unites all these demands for change, it is democracy or people power. There are deep roots of the idea, apparent in the mass assemblies by the Israelites before Moses and Ezra, and countless newer versions from American and French revolutions onward. The down side of people power is the problem of controlling it. What gets emphasis? What will satisfy?


Israel''s environmentalists are also at the party. They do not like the idea of short cuts through the planning process in order to produce more apartments quickly. Anyone seeking blame for delays in construction can start with the reservations they present to planning bodies, as well as quarrels among environmentalists as to which elements of a plan are most objectionable.


There are likely to be individuals concerned about the environment among the students and others protesting housing.


In these noisy days, one has to go to international media to learn what is happening in Washington. The squabble between Congressional Republicans and the White House may produce an end-of-days economic crisis that will dwarf local problems with cottage cheese, housing, and hospital residents, and turn the disaster in Norway into last week''s incident.


It is necessary to reach page 8 of Ha''aretz to find indications that Palestinians are feeling their issue lost in the domestic problems of Americans and Israelis. One of their leading figures is threatening to dissolve the Palestine National Authority and dump their problem on the United States if no one steps up and solves it soon.


Imagine. No residents in Israeli hospitals, tent cities spread across the country, no money available to pay Washington''s bills, and no Palestine.


Will the day after all of this be the quiet of exhaustion, competition among those still seeking solution, or the moans of those already suffering? Cynicism and despair compete with the optimism of seeing democracy at work.

 




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