Housing protest - Emil Salman
Protesters attempting to block the entrance to the Knesset as lawmakers voted on the National Housing Committees Law. Photo by Emil Salman
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees no danger to his coalition government as a result of the current wave of public protest, political figures quoted him as saying Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Knesset passed a controversial housing bill despite the objections of leaders of the housing protest movement that has been gaining momentum across the country. (See story at right. )

In about six weeks, before the high holidays, Netanyahu will present a plan that will "change the face of the country," the sources quoted him as saying.

Netanyahu said the plan's main points were to break the monopolies that are preventing competition and to slash indirect taxes.

By the beginning of next week, Netanyahu will announce the makeup of a "dialogue team" to consist of ministers and economic experts. They will meet with the heads of the protest movement and hear their demands.

No meeting planned

Netanyahu said he did not intend to meet with the protest leaders, who he believes are backed by leftist political parties and organizations. But he said he identifies with the grievances that are at the basis of the protest.

"This can be our great opportunity," Netanyahu was quoted as saying. "No one can complain about the economy. The economy is working. But there are complaints, justified complaints, about the hardships of daily life, about the high cost of living.

"Everyone is asking me how I plan to deal with the political situation. My political strategy for the coming year is simple: Take real and serious care of these problems. My goal is not to dismantle the tents. They will not be dismantled. They are there to be there."

As the Knesset went into its long summer recess Wednesday until October 31, Netanyahu reportedly left the building in good spirits. His pet legislation, the bill to set up new housing committees, has been passed. Before acceding to some of the protesters' demands, he showed protest leader Daphni Leef and her friends from the Rothschild Boulevard tents who's boss. Now, after he has proved that he cannot be pressured, he can allow himself to be generous.

Netanyahu believes that in a year and a half, before the next elections, the results of this reform will be felt throughout the country in the addition of tens of thousands of apartments and a real decline in purchase and rental prices.

"They say they want cheap housing. The purpose of the National Housing Committees Law is to flood the country with housing," Netanyahu was quoted as saying. "That will bring down prices. So why are they against it? Think about it."

Last week he saw a few opinion polls, some that had been commissioned and some by the media. He was happy to see that in all of them, Likud had emerged little scathed, while Kadima had lost seats to Labor and Meretz.

While it's true that a vast majority of Likud voters support the protest, as first published in a Haaretz survey nine days ago, Netanyahu is convinced that these people will vote Likud in the next elections, too.