JERUSALEM (AFP)---Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday unveiled reforms to address a massive housing crisis which has sparked the biggest social protests seen in the Jewish state since the 1970s.
But activists rejected his proposals and vowed to carry on demonstrating.
Over the past 12 days, tens of thousands of Israelis have camped out on the streets in tent protests across the country, reaching the gates of the Knesset, or parliament, in Jerusalem on Sunday.
Such widespread social upheaval has not been seen in Israel since the early 1970s when thousands of people, led by a group called the Black Panthers, took
to the streets to protest against racial discrimination suffered by Mizrahi Jews of Middle Eastern descent.
As tens of thousands rallied in Tel Aviv over the weekend, and hundreds more set up fresh tent camps and blocked roads on Sunday and Monday, Netanyahu cancelled a one-day trip to Poland in an effort to tackle the unrest.
"The housing crisis in Israel is a real problem," he said in Tuesday speech broadcast live on the main television and radio stations.
Netanyahu criticized "the monopoly" on construction on land held by the Israel Lands Administration (ILA), which controls some 90 percent of the territory.
And he unveiled a plan to reduce the cost of such land, and to attack the bureaucracy that has delayed housing starts.
He said some 50,000 homes would be built and put on the market in the next 18 months, and pledged to build 10,000 dormitory places for university and college students, who would also benefit from subsidized public transport.
The plan would be put before parliament for a vote next week, he said.
But protest leaders were unimpressed, with the students' union saying that the incentives to its members were an attempt to drive a wedge between students and other campaigners.
"We are continuing the struggle: the students are a part of the wider social struggle for affordable housing," the union said in a statement.
"The prime minister is offering students an unprecedented benefits package and this is appreciated. However the students are fighting for all Israeli society and not only for themselves," it said.
"Netanyahu is saying, 'free land'," housing activist Stav Shafir told an open-air news conference in Tel Aviv.
"Who will get it, the needy of Israel? No way, the ones who will get (the land) are the contractors, and the rest of his wealthy friends who will be able to build on free land," she said in remarks broadcast by public radio.
The crisis has put huge pressure on Netanyahu, and a poll published in the Haaretz newspaper on Tuesday showed the housing protest was backed by 87
percent of Israelis and was costing him political support.
It indicated that if an election were called today, the opposition Labour party would double the eight seats it currently holds, at the expense of Netanyahu's Likud and the centrist Kadima, each of which would lose four.
Labour strongly condemned Netanyahu's Tuesday speech as "lacking content" and an "apparent attempt to bribe" the protesters.
"Netanyahu's speech did not provide real and sustainable solutions and his proposals put a sticking-plaster on a fundamental and deep problem which has suffered years of neglect," party chairman Micha Harish said in a statement.
In recent days protesters have rallied in the streets, blocking traffic in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the southern city of Beersheva under the slogan: "We are fighting for a roof."
On Saturday, tens of thousand of people held a mass rally in Tel Aviv, while on Sunday, more than 1,000 protesters gathered outside the Knesset.
Netanyahu is also facing pressure from a long-running doctors' strike over pay and conditions, with medics announcing plans to step up their protest with a series of wildcat strikes in public hospitals, the Maariv newspaper reported.
As part of the campaign, Israel Medical Association chief Dr Leonid Eidelman began an open-ended hunger strike to demand that Netanyahu, who also holds the health portfolio, take action
"One hundred and twenty-eight days of struggle and we ask: where is prime minister and health minister Netanyahu?" Eidelman said on Monday in comments carried by Maariv.
"The deterioration in the health care system has been going on for two years, but under your watch, it has become intolerable."