protest - Moti Kimche - July 20 2011
The tent city protest in Tel Aviv. Photo by Moti Kimche
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Top officials met past midnight to try to find solutions for the housing crisis that has sent apartment prices spiraling upward. An emergency meeting called by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lasted several hours longer than planned, but ended with nothing new. Close to midnight, the officials reconvened.

The officials seek to keep a lid on both housing prices and rents. The meetings were attended by Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz; Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias; the director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Eyal Gabai; and the head of the National Economic Council, Eugene Kandel.

The first meeting reached no conclusions, sources said, because the treasury torpedoed every suggestion made by the Housing and Construction Ministry. The treasury cited various reasons, most of them related to cost.

The atmosphere at the first meeting was tense, given the protests in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and elsewhere around the country. Netanyahu pressed Steinitz and Atias to come up with solutions, and the feeling was that the meeting could not break up without giving the public some hope, whether for the short, medium or long term.

But the officials seemed unable to budge from their positions or propose new ideas, even though many suggestions have been raised by both officials and the media.

Participants declined to go on the record about what went on in the first meeting, nor would they speculate on the chances of coming to any agreements overnight. A similar meeting Monday also produced no breakthrough.

Atias reportedly suggested at the first meeting that the government subsidize large-scale construction of 20,000 to 30,000 apartments for poorer families. But Steinitz rejected the idea, saying it would cost too much and that the plan was aimed at the people Atias represented, the ultra-Orthodox, not the overall population.

Another emergency meeting is scheduled to take place at the Prime Minister’s Office today, this one on how to lower the prices of milk and other food products.

Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon, who will be attending today’s meeting, said earlier this week that he would present some surprising findings about the supermarket chains’ profit margins on these items.

Both he and Agriculture Minister Orit Noked, who will also attend, strongly oppose Steinitz’s proposal to increase imports of milk and food products in an effort to reduce prices.