stroller march
Parents marching in Tel Aviv on July 28, 2011 as part of a nationwide movement known as the 'stroller march.' Photo by Tal Cohen
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A wartime mood prevailed in the prime minister's office yesterday. The other shoe dropped. This is a serious, unprecedented, powerful phenomenon. The middle class rebellion, spreading like wildfire throughout the country, is undoubtedly the most acute crisis the second Netanyahu government has had to deal with.

Netanyahu understands that if he wants to have a third government, he has to shift from responding to initiating, from spinning to acting, from defense to offense.

The quip "the bastards changed the rules and didn't tell me," attributed to former U.S. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, accurately reflects what Netanyahu is going through. Except that in his case, the "bastards" are the people. They are parents to children, young couples, students, reserve soldiers, doctors, released soldiers - the salt of the earth.

At the Likud faction meeting this week, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, one of Netanyahu's loyal confidants, said, "in the past 20 years, every time the elections were about a social-economic issue, Likud lost. Every time they were about a security issue or the peace agreement, Likud won."

Sa'ar's statement was a warning, but expressed hope too. At least a year remains until the elections. This is Netanyahu's chance to reboot his unimpressive term and create an agenda.

A little over two years ago, when he formed the government, he appointed himself "super-minister for economic strategy." Since then he has been drawn into the security-diplomatic quagmire, which has taken up most of his time.

This is the time to fill the explosive title Netanyahu gave himself. The people around him yesterday indicated that Netanyahu intends to conduct himself as a super minister for strategic economy in the coming weeks, which now seem crucial to his status and his government's stability.

He is not interested in firing Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz. But if Steinitz fails to adjust to the new dramatic circumstances and continues to recite the tired old mantras of his ministry officials, he will not be able to go on carrying the stretcher.

For the moment Netanyahu has granted Steinitz immunity, with a few statements. But, like in "Survivor," immunity is temporary.

Fortunately for Netanyahu, the Knesset is going on a 90-day recess next week, so he will be spared private members bills and no-confidence motions. He will not have to deal with rebellious coalition members, panicking from the angry surge in the street.

It is clear to the prime minister and his men that unless the protest calms down by the time the Knesset returns for its winter session, the coalition may be in for a real hell. A winter of discontent, as the Bard said.

In Likud things are still under control. The ministers and parliamentarians are functioning as lightning rods for the party's activists, members and voters. In the evenings they visit Likud branches and hear harsh things, prophesies of doom about what the party can expect in the elections.

Minister Michael Eitan said this week he met Likud members who are taking part in the protest.

"There are Likud members shouting 'Bibi go home,'" Eitan said. "Not as a political demand but as a demand to rectify the situation."

His colleague, Minister Moshe Kahlon, whose name has been mentioned as a likely candidate to replace Steinitz, was called by a few Likud people who set up a protest tent in a town outside the center a few days ago.

They pleaded with him to visit them, calm them down and persuade them to take the tent down. "I can't take such a responsibility on myself," Kahlon said, and did not come.