Netanyahu hosts French MP at Balfour residence despite promises to Bennett

Jewish parliamentarian Meyer Habib publishes photo with former PM at official residence, saying he was there for a ‘private meeting’ that took place amid moving boxes

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

French MP Meyer Habib (L) with Sara Netanyahu (C) and Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu in the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, July 1, 2021. (Facebook)
French MP Meyer Habib (L) with Sara Netanyahu (C) and Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu in the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, July 1, 2021. (Facebook)

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu met a French member of parliament at the official Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday despite having pledged that he would no longer conduct official meetings in the lead-up to his scheduled departure on July 10.

Jewish parliamentarian Meyer Habib on Thursday posted a photo taken with Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, at the residence, saying that he was there a day earlier for a “private meeting” that took place amid moving boxes.

Though Naftali Bennett was sworn in as prime minister on June 13, replacing Netanyahu after 12 consecutive years in the office, Netanyahu has not yet left the official prime ministerial residence located on Balfour Street in Jerusalem.

With no legal stipulation detailing when a replaced premier must leave the official residence, Bennett and Netanyahu announced in a joint statement last week that the latter would depart by July 10.

The statement said that until then, no official meetings would take place at the residence.

The announcement came six days after former US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley posted a picture with Netanyahu at the official residence, where he had hosted her along with Christians United For Israel founder John Hagee. The photo led to an uproar, with critics demanding to know why the opposition head was continuing to use the residence to entertain foreign dignitaries. Netanyahu had since also met with MKs Nir Barkat and Amichai Chikli at the residence for political discussions.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) hosts CUFI president John Hagee (L) and former US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerualem on June 14, 2021. (Nikki Haley/Twitter)

Bennett will begin using the residence by July 11, four weeks after he was sworn in as prime minister. The prime minister reportedly plans for his family to stay in their hometown of Ra’anana during the week, while he uses the official residence for meetings. They may join him in Jerusalem on weekends.

At the official residence, the Netanyahus were packing up and preparing to move to their private Caesarea residence, sources said last month.

They said that the family will only spend a number of months in Caesarea, while an apartment they own on the capital’s Azza Street is brought up to security standards. Once ready, the Netanyahus will move in there. Netanyahu is also a part-owner of his late father’s home on Haportzim Street in the city, but apparently will not be moving into it with his family.

For the time being, Bennett is living in his family home in Ra’anana.

Bennett has four children — aged 16, 14, 12 and 9 — who all study in schools near their current residence. His wife, Gilat Bennett, also works in the city.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with his family, in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2021. (Ariel Zandberg/Yamina)

Last month, Prime Minister’s Office legal adviser Shlomit Barnea ruled that the state would stop paying for the official residence’s expenses as long as the Netanyahus remained there.

During his 12 consecutive years in office, Netanyahu lived in the official Jerusalem residence during the week with his wife and two children, while spending weekends in the family’s Caesarea villa.

The residence of Israel’s prime minister, officially named Beit Aghion, is located on the corner of Smolenskin and Balfour streets in the upscale Rehavia neighborhood of central Jerusalem.

It was the site of weekly demonstrations for much of the past year, as thousands of activists gathered there regularly to demand Netanyahu step down over his trial for alleged corruption, as well as what they said were his assaults on the democratic system.

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