ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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PM’s office said mulling halt to work on official residence in favor of new building

Report says Netanyahu’s staff to discuss matter in coming days; ongoing renovations at Balfour compound estimated to cost around $30 million, last another 2-3 more years

View of the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on December 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
View of the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on December 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office is considering canceling renovations at the premier’s official residence in Jerusalem and instead building a new combined office and home, according to a report Friday.

The Haaretz daily reported that the Prime Minister’s Office estimates the ongoing renovations at the residence, officially named Beit Aghion, but more commonly referred to as Balfour — the street on which it is located — will cost between NIS 80 and 100 million ($25-30 million).

The renovations are likely to last between two and three more years.

The residence is located in a residential neighborhood of central Jerusalem and is not adjacent to the Prime Minister’s Office, which is in the government quarter near the city’s Western entrance.

According to the newspaper, in the coming days the PMO is expected to discuss the possibility of advancing plans to establish a new residence and halting the ongoing renovations.

Last month, the Kan public broadcaster reported that the PMO was beginning to revive the plan, known colloquially as the “Israeli White House.”

If fulfilled, the project is expected to cost hundreds of millions of shekels, and would take some seven years to be completed, Haaretz said.

Plans for a single compound that will house the Israeli prime minister’s dwelling and offices have intermittently been considered for long years, but have been frozen time and again for various reasons.

The Kan report said the PMO was looking for an architect and a project manager to advance the matter.

File: View of the Prime Minister’s Office in the government quarter in Jerusalem, on March 6, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

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 in the government quarter. The government in 2014 decided to again move ahead with the project, and in 2015 called for it to be completed by 2018. It was then put on hold again.

In 2020, a State Comptroller report found that despite years of work and millions paid out, the project had not even made it past the planning stage.

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman found then that the cost of the project was estimated at NIS 1.2 billion ($352 million), twice the figure of NIS 650 million ($176 million) put forward when the project was given the go-ahead in 2009.

Englman directed criticism at the Shin Bet security service, which, he found, had spent years assessing the security requirements of the project based on outdated information that did not include significant changes made to the traffic system at the entrance to the capital and the introduction of the light rail system. Only in 2018 did the Shin Bet begin working with more accurate plans.

“Delays in the check of planning information caused a waste of precious time, financial and non-financial resources that went down the drain,” Englman wrote then.

Meanwhile, the Balfour residence has been undergoing long-overdue renovations and security updates since Netanyahu moved out in July 2021 after leaving office.

Former prime minister Naftali Bennett spent most of his time living at his home in Ra’anana — to the consternation of his neighbors there — while former prime minister Yair Lapid stayed in a small apartment within the prime ministerial compound.

Now returned to the premiership, Netanyahu is currently residing at his private residence on Jerusalem’s Gaza Street.

Residents have complained about the additional security, street closures and loud sirens at all hours of the day when Netanyahu arrives and departs from the home.

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