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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears helpless and confused in the face of the wave of social protests and demonstrations. Netanyahu returned to power on an economic platform and after one prominent term as finance minister under Ariel Sharon. He is now having difficulty dealing with protesters' demands for housing solutions and rehabilitation of the welfare state, accompanied by ever-growing calls to oust him.

His bureau is releasing numerous statements whose purpose is to present the prime minister as a "social-minded politician" responsive to the feelings of the public; for example, the statement yesterday announcing the doubling of a grant for senior citizens to heat their homes - released right in the dog days of summer.

Netanyahu has spent the past few days coming up with a fiscal trick to prevent the rise of gas prices. And that was after a press conference last week in which he presented diffused "solutions" to the housing crisis. The lack of control and frequent shooting from the hip of the leadership led yesterday to the resignation of the Finance Ministry's director general, Haim Shani.

Netanyahu has only himself to blame for his situation. In the 28 months he has been in office he has enjoyed a stable coalition, a paralyzed opposition, calm on the security front, economic growth and public support. Ostensibly, he had at his disposal the optimum conditions to lead the country. But Netanyahu was preoccupied with only one thing: satisfying his coalition partners, to keep them in power for as long as possible. He therefore wasted his time on passive policies that were responses to events and pressure instead of initiating and taking risks. That is how he conducted his foreign and security policies as well as his economic and social policies.

Now the prime minister is paying the price for sitting on the fence. His popularity is at a nadir, and although there is no immediate political threat against him - his rivals in the Likud are silent and the opposition is not currently perceived as an alternative - he behaves as if his government is in imminent danger of falling, and responds accordingly out of pressure and panic.

There is nothing worse for a leader than losing control of the agenda. That is what has happened to Netanyahu over the past three weeks, and from a direction he did not expect. He may still be able to come to his senses, calm the protest and lead the country anew. But his time is running out and the camp demanding his resignation is growing stronger.