Plane and new residence for PM okayed by ministers

$200 million initiative aims to fix logistical problems involved in state visits and day-to-day work for prime minister

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)

The government on Sunday approved a multimillion dollar plan to acquire a new private aircraft for the use of the prime minister and the president, and to build a new combined prime minister’s residence and office in Jerusalem.

The building project for the new official prime minister’s residence is estimated to run a tab of some NIS 650 million ($188 million), the Ynet news site reported, and the cost of an airplane with the necessary security systems could be up to NIS 70 million ($20 million).

In giving a green light to the projects, the government ministers approved a plan drafted by a specially appointed public committee which, in December 2013, was tasked with investigating the cost effectiveness of investing in a new airplane and residence for the prime minister.

In a report last month the committee noted the many logistical problems associated with the lack of an official, dedicated aircraft for state visits as well as with the current prime minister’s residence, which is not located near the prime minister’s office.

“The current situation cannot continue and should be corrected immediately,” the commission wrote. 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, the prime minister charters private planes for state trips abroad. The prime minister came under fire for the practice after using NIS 450,000 ($127,000) of state funds to pay for the installation of a bed for a five-hour flight to Britain.

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).

In December, Netanyahu cited “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 a residential neighborhood of central Jerusalem but is not adjacent to the Prime Minister’s Office in the city’s government quarter.

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.

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