The cabinet will consider on Sunday the purchase of a dedicated airplane and a new official residence for Israel’s prime minister.
Government ministers will discuss the idea at the weekly cabinet meeting, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself listed on the meeting’s official agenda (link in Hebrew, PDF) as the initiative’s sponsor.
The cabinet is expected to vote on the measure in its Sunday meeting. If it passes, it would establish a public committee to investigate the cost-effectiveness of purchasing the new plane and residence.
Proponents of the purchase of a dedicated plane say that it will be more cost-effective in the long run and point to other countries with comparable populations and economies, such as Ireland and the Czech Republic, that maintain dedicated aircraft for use by their heads of state. Currently, Israel charters a commercial aircraft, which must be specially fitted and secured, for each international trip by the prime minister or president.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid said Sunday morning he would vote against the plan, citing Finance Ministry estimates that it would cost some NIS 800 million ($228 million).
“We believe that in this period of belt-tightening and rising taxes, with the gap between [Israel's] rich and poor among the highest in the world, it would be appropriate for the government of Israel to be more frugal and not take steps that will appear disconnected from the daily difficulties faced by the public,” Lapid said in a statement.
In May of this year, Netanyahu faced criticism after it was revealed that the government spent over NIS 450,000 ($127,000) outfitting a plane with a double bed for a five-hour flight to England to attend the funeral of former UK leader Margaret Thatcher.
Last week, Netanyahu was in the news again for citing “onerous financial and logistic outlays” as a key reason he declined to attend the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in South Africa. The cost for the flight and security arrangements were estimated at NIS 7 million (almost $2 million), as opposed to the roughly NIS 1 million ($285,000) cost to send six representatives from the Knesset, including Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, according to a Channel 2 report.
The residence of Israel’s prime minister, officially named Beit Aghion, is located in central Jerusalem but is not adjacent to the Prime Minister’s Office in the city’s western side. In 2009, the government approved a plan, ultimately not implemented due to excessive cost, to unite the prime minister’s residence and office in a new location.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.