Naveh 1. "Dalia, you won't believe this, but the problem began 30 years ago. Then there were 3.4 beds per 1,000 citizens, and today we have only 2.1," Health Minister Danny Naveh said in amazement to a radio interviewer.

Naveh said that Israel now ranks 39th out of 40 industrialized countries surveyed. Only Turkey has a lower hospital bed rate per capita. So what has happened in the past 30 years?

Back in December 1975, Moshe Levinger took over Sebastia, and that was the beginning of the settlement movement in the West Bank. In those 30 years, the governments of Israel have invested billions of shekels in the territories, on towns and settlements, roads, tunnels and bridges, on development and tax breaks, grants and investments, on free preschools and local government grants three times those found on the other side of the Green Line, not to mention the expensive upkeep of the Israel Defense Forces. And Naveh supported all of this warmly.

But when there's only one treasury of limited resources, governments must cut from elsewhere, in social services and health. So what's the surprise, Mr. Naveh, when the ill are left in hospital corridors, when the basket of health services is outdated, and hospital care has deteriorated?

Naveh 2. For years, the treasury has tried promoting the sale of nonprescription drugs in supermarkets. In the U.S., such over-the-counter drugs are half the price as in Israel, because there there are almost no limits and the list available is long.

Here, the process is lengthy, and finally in 2002 a law was passed that allowed stores to sell drugs without prescriptions. In September 2003, the Health Ministry submitted its list of such drugs to the Knesset Labor and Welfare Committee for approval, only to withdraw it two days later because the pharmacists were unhappy. They put the pressure on Naveh, and the ministry resubmitted an emasculated list, which does not reflect the public interest.

Last May, the committee approved the list, but more delays have made May 10, 2005 the date when you can buy medications in your local supermarket.

Last week, Naveh said he didn't believe this will lead to lower prices in the short term. Well, that gets one's goat, because it was his ministry that did everything to delay and harm the move. Had the American system - of lengthy lists of over-the-counter drugs with no draconian limits on sales points - been enacted years ago, it would have halved prices immediately.

But when the ministry gives in to pressure from companies and pharmacists - when it slashes the list of drugs available, sets tough restrictions on sales points (such as ceiling height or the size of the store) and sets unreasonable package sizes (Nurofen, Acamol and Dexamol, for example, will be sold in packets of 16 pills, while the pharmacists will be selling packets of 50 pills) - then clearly prices are going to rise, competition will shrivel and the price of the drugs will barely fall. Well, as long as the pharmacists and Naveh are happy.