Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied reports Sunday that the government would move to funnel money toward the building of a special residence for an alternate prime minister, a position created as part of a power-sharing deal with Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
Netanyahu made the comments as the government approved wide-ranging budget cuts to pay for the Alternative Prime Minister’s Office and five other new ministries created for the new government.
“It’s not true. It didn’t come up and it won’t,” Netanyahu said about the secondary residence.
A unity coalition deal between the Likud party’s Netanyahu and Blue and White’s Benny Gantz ended over a year of political deadlock, when the most minister-rich government in Israel’s history was sworn in earlier this month. New ministerial positions were created to accommodate the cabinet’s 33 ministers, who account for more than a quarter of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers.
A clause of the unity agreement grants the alternative prime minister the same conditions as the prime minister regarding an office, security and a residence. However, the sides have apparently agreed that Netanyahu will continue to stay on in the official residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street, even after the rotation, as Gantz intends to remain living at his home in the central region city of Rosh Ha’ayin.
Although the cabinet approved creating the Alternate Prime Minister’s Office, it is not yet clear how many civil servants will staff it, or the size of its budget. So far, Gantz has only selected his close confidant, Hod Batzar, to be its director general, Hebrew media reported.
Netanyahu, Gantz, the Civil Service Commission and the Finance Ministry are to decide the eventual budget and the size of its staff, the Walla news website reported Sunday.
The Alternate Prime Minister’s Office will be held by Gantz for 18 months and then transferred to Netanyahu, as part of a power-sharing deal designed to allow the latter to keep the prime ministerial title even after vacating the post. Gantz will then take control of the country, as Netanyahu deals with the three corruption cases he faces in a trial that opened last week. Unlike other ministers, a prime minister can remain in his post even after he is indicted on criminal charges.
On Sunday, ministers approved a government decision that will see a 1.5 percent cut to the budgets of all government offices, specifically at the upper personnel level, to pay for the six new ministries. The move will slash 300 posts from the various offices to free up some NIS 100 million ($28.5 million).
The price tag for the overhead costs of the new government has been estimated as high as a billion shekels ($285 million) over its three-year span. There have been widespread accusations that the government is overlarge and costly at a time when the economy is being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Opposition chairman Yair Lapid issued a statement blasting the government, after ministers approved funding for the newly formed offices created by the Gantz-Netanyahu coalition deal.
“The government handed half a billion shekels to itself today. Not for the self-employed, not for the unemployed, not for small businesses, but for itself,” said Lapid.