A meeting between Prime Minister's Office Director-General Eyal Gabai, Finance Ministry officials, and the Israel Medical Association over the continuing doctors' strike ended in stalemate Tuesday. The meeting had been called in an attempt to reach an agreement that would end the prolonged strike.
Meanwhile, medical residents on Wednesday announced their own strike of indefinite length and continued to protest around the country against the terms being proposed for an agreement to end the doctors' strike.
On Tuesday, doctors entered the second day of their protest march to Jerusalem, led by Israel Medical Association Chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman, who began a hunger strike on Monday. During their march, doctors were told that Gabai was inviting them to meet him and Finance Ministry officials.
"We are going there out of the positive desire to move things forward," Israel Medical Association Deputy Chairman Dr. Yitzhak Ziv-Ner said before the meeting. But after the meeting ended, medical union officials looked disappointed. "The meeting contributed nothing to solving the crisis," Dr. Eidelman said. "There was no progress and no attempt to solve the problem. The gaps remain as wide as ever, and on some issues we even regressed."
"We initiated the meeting with the Prime Minister's Office and doctors to spare them the effort of marching. The meeting uncovered the gaps between the sides, which are widening," Finance Ministry Wages Director Ilan Levin said after the meeting. Levin said that Prime Minister and Health Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was engaged in the issues and wholeheartedly backed the Finance Ministry's Budget Department in its handling of the negotiations. "The argument is not about 100 positions more or less," Levin said. "They expect us to add a much larger number of personnel, a number that boggles the mind. We cannot breech the budget."
At a press conference on Tuesday on housing, Netanyahu addressed the medical crisis as well. "Our agreement with the doctors has collapsed," he said. "I will get regular updates about the crisis and make the best possible decision as to how to move forward."
"We tried to accommodate the doctors. We offered solutions and made significant concessions. If they are interested, we can forge an agreement," Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said. Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman was critical of the residents. "I am willing to mediate between the sides if they ask me to, but I won't go down with a sinking ship," Litzman said to Israel Hayom. "I made sure that in the new agreement, the residents would work less, and they didn't even bother to thank me for that."
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, medical residents gathered at the Tel Hashomer, Beilinson, Assaf Harofeh, Meir, Hadassah, Wolfson, and Kaplan medical centers and signed letters of resignation, which they have placed in trust for now. "We are threatening to resign unless our basic demands for reforms, as well as better salary and work conditions, are met," Dr. Daniel Lanzberg, a resident in the fields of gynecology and baby delivery at Sheba Medical Center said. "We support the medical association's fight for our rights, with the aim of arriving at an agreement that will solve difficult issues. However, we will not accept a cosmetic agreement."
Meanwhile, a number of doctors from various hospitals took to the streets in protest. Doctors from the Wolfson hospital in Holon blocked streets and hoisted signs that read, "I am starting a 26-hour shift now," and, "I earn 23 shekels an hour." City residents demonstrated their support for the doctors, some by applauding as they passed while others joined their march.
Doctors and residents employed at the Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba and the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon also took to the streets. In Ashkelon, their protests generated severe traffic jams. "We have been silent for too many years now, despite the constant erosion and decline in our work conditions. We will continue this struggle until we get some positive results," said one protesting doctor.
The medical association has decided that hospitals and surgery rooms will operate as usual Wednesday. However, outpatient clinics, institutes offering special procedures, and day treatment centers will not receive patients. On Thursday, surgery staff will join the strike, performing only oncological and other life-saving operations.