Hiding Hysteria

Netanyahu's plan for addressing housing crisis gives into protesters' demands and goes against his belief in the free market.

The forced smiles, lame jokes and sticky chumminess that characterized yesterday's joint press conference by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz could not conceal the enormous pressure they are under.

They didn't do any staff work, didn't examine alternatives, didn't calculate how much it would cost. After a mere two days, they simply presented a few hasty measures in an attempt to convince the tent-dwellers on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard that they were serious.

But the protesters on Rothschild could smell the two men's fear and panic and rejected the plan with contempt. Instead of easing the protests, this plan will cause the protests to swell.

Netanyahu enthusiastically presented a plan he doesn't even believe in. He doesn't believe in localized solutions, in artificial discounts for specific groups or in dictating prices from above. He believes in the free market and the forces of supply and demand.

So why did Netanyahu propose his four-part plan? Because the public wants action. Because he wanted to show everyone that he is doing something, that he is in control and hears the protesters.

So let us examine the four parts.

1. Land at half price in tenders for low-cost housing. This sounds good, but who will get the low-priced apartments? What are the criteria? How much will it cost the taxpayer? After all, we know that until now, most of those who received cheap apartments from the Housing and Construction Ministry were ultra-Orthodox families. So who will guarantee that those who get these apartments won't be other government cronies?

We must understand that for every young couple who receives a cheap apartment, there will be another 1,000 who will get nothing, and will be stuck with the current prices. Those embittered will vastly outnumber those happy.

And of course, that's if the plan is actually implemented: There's a large gap between talk and action. Two and a half years ago, Netanyahu announced an important reform of the Israel Lands Administration, but it has yet to pass the Knesset.

2. Cheap, price-controlled rentals. This employs the same trick: lower land prices. But the Israeli public doesn't like to rent. Israelis want four walls of their own to give them security. Rental apartments will be of low-quality construction, and I am willing to bet they will look like slums within a few years.

3. Subsidized housing for students. Here the state is going one step further and giving away the land for free. But these will be student dorms, and you are not a student forever, only for three or four years. Then what?

This seems to be a gift aimed solely at enticing student union leaders to leave the tents. But they will not take the bait.

4. Cheaper public transportation for students. The idea is for students to live outside the big city, in cheaper locales, and commute to Tel Aviv. Netanyahu gave the example of living in Lod and studying in Tel Aviv.

Of course, he said that because he has never taken public transportation in his life. Just let him try to arrive on time with all the traffic jams and delays.

There is a reason all the young people want to live in Tel Aviv. A 50 percent cut in bus prices is just a bribe for those who already take the bus. Not a single student will move to Lod because of it.

But most importantly, all four items together won't increase the number of homes. And therefore, they also won't lower prices.