Committee endorses plan for new PM plane and domicile

Committee endorses plan for new PM plane and domicile

New measures would eliminate need for charter flights, unite prime minister's residence and office

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boards a plane to Russia, Tuesday, May 14, 2013 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boards a plane to Russia, Tuesday, May 14, 2013 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

A public committee tasked with investigating the cost effectiveness of investing in a new airplane and residence for the prime minister recommended both initiatives on Wednesday.

The committee, commissioned in December 2013, determined that the estimated cost of an airplane with the necessary security systems should be approximately $70 million, Haaretz reported.

It also endorsed the construction of a new compound containing both the prime minister’s office and residence, but added that the residential section should not exceed more than 10 percent of the total project costs.

“The current situation cannot continue and should be corrected immediately,” the commission added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the initiative’s primary sponsors.

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.

One of the possible ways of reducing costs is to purchase an already outfitted plane secondhand from another country.

The proposal initially met with vehement opposition from the Yesh Atid party. Finance minister and party chair Yair Lapid said in December that 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 at the time.

Earlier in 2013, Netanyahu faced criticism after it was revealed that the government had 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.

Netanyahu was also in the news in December 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 was 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.

read more: