More than 14 hours passed between when news broke of the imminent replacement of the finance minister yesterday morning, and 8 P.M., when the Prime Minister's Bureau voiced support for Yuval Steinitz. During 12 of these hours, the media feverishly busied itself with Steinitz's political demise and speculation regarding the identity of his successor.

If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been blessed with the same famous cynicism of Ariel Sharon, we would have sworn that the tardiness of the all-clear signal was deliberately calculated and planned to persuade Steinitz to step down on his own accord.

However, because Netanyahu is not a cynic, and because his bureau is nothing like Sharon's used to be, one can only assume that the Chinese torture that Steinitz underwent was nothing more than the result of negligence.

Netanyahu is not satisfied with his finance minister, but he will not fire him. Netanyahu does not dismiss; he hangs out to dry. Steinitz is not a terrible finance minister; there have been worse ones. He is not a hated finance minister; others have been hated more. But he is devoid of political and public standing.

He is not Netanyahu's flak jacket, as Finance Minister Netanyahu was for Sharon. Steinitz leaves the prime minister in the crosshairs, a target for the rage of the protesters in Tel Aviv on Saturday night.

Steinitz's problem appears to be one of style: He is cold and alienating; he bandies about figures and data, albeit accurate ones, but comes across as apathetic to the suffering and frustrations of the students and young married couples who are unable to keep their heads above water.

Yesterday, Netanyahu, an elite forces veteran, pleaded for help from his party's ministers, help to carry the stretcher to the top of the hill. In other words, he demanded that they play team defense. On Saturday night, he heard the masses in Tel Aviv demanding his resignation, and he expects his ministers to take the bullet for him, for themselves.

What he said to them yesterday was: If I go down, you go down with me. And they got the message, with one minister describing the mood at the meeting as "Not good, friends. Not good."

Netanyahu hinted to the Likud ministers that things are not going to be easy, that there's no quick fix, that it is going to hurt, and that they are going to sweat like hell.

Later at the cabinet meeting, he admitted that the protest is real, the distress is real, the pain is real.

The entire political system and the public on the whole (aside from two journalists ) understand this. And if anyone thinks that the red, social-democratic wind that is blowing through the country has penetrated the prime minister's office too, they are very wrong. Netanyahu made it clear yesterday the root of the problem lies not in the free market but in the lack thereof - in other words, in the red tape of the planning and building committees and the monopoly of the Israel Lands Administration.

He argued, and rightfully so, that he identified these problems on taking office, in April 2009, and took steps to solve them. But Netanyahu knows that good intentions, and only good intentions, lead to Hell - or in his case, to outside his official residence in Jerusalem.