Netanyahu Pledges to Ease Living Costs After Nationwide Protests

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu renewed his pledge to ease the cost of living after weekend protest rallies brought more than 400,000 people onto the streets.

Netanyahu said he will act on recommendations from a panel headed by Tel Aviv University economist Manuel Trajtenberg that are due by the end of September and aim to provide cheaper housing and bring down prices for food, daycare and transportation.

“The public debate and the Trajtenberg Committee discussions are an opportunity for real changes,” Netanyahu said in remarks broadcast on Israel Radio before his weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. “After receiving the committee’s recommendations, I will act quickly to bring about the correct balance between social concern and fiscal responsibility.”

A citizens protest movement that started in mid-July by planting tent camps in Tel Aviv’s fanciest neighborhoods organized rallies across the country last night that attracted as many as 450,000 people, according to estimates in Haaretz and other newspapers.

The protesters “will not give up,” said Itzik Shmuli, a leader of the movement and chairman of the National Student Union, addressing a crowd estimated at 300,000 in Tel Aviv. “They demand change and will not stop until real solutions come.”

Stocks Fall

Israeli stocks fell the most in a week in the first trading session after the rally and amid concerns that the U.S. economy may slip into recession. The benchmark TA-25 Index dropped 2.6 percent to 1,102.47 at 1:46 p.m. in Tel Aviv, the biggest intraday decline since Aug. 25.

Housing prices have increased about 40 percent in the last three years, in part the result of Israel’s slow planning and construction process, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer said on Aug. 1. They rose 13.7 percent in the 12 months through April-May, about triple the inflation rate, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported on July 15.

Israel ranked fourth in the Knight Frank Global House Price Index for the first quarter of 2011, trailing only Hong Kong, India and Taiwan. Rent prices increased a monthly 1.1 percent May.