The cancellation of the Netanyahu family’s use of a private plane to fly to Washington this week came after the jet’s owners asked the Prime Minister’s Office to reconsider in the wake of public criticism, Channel 12 news reported on Friday.
According to the report, the private flight was cancelled after the management company of businessman Udi Angel, the owner of the plane, balked at the arrangement.
The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement to Channel 12 news that “no such message reached the office,” saying the private flight was cancelled “so as not to allow media to divert public attention from the historic peace accord with the UAE, and potentially with other Arab nations.”
The statement was made prior to the announcement of a second normalization deal with Bahrain.
Angel’s management company refused to comment to the network on the report.
Netanyahu will now join the official Israeli delegation departing Tel Aviv on Sunday evening and heading home from Washington on Tuesday afternoon.
The prime minister is expected to be joined on the trip by his wife, Sara, and two adult sons — Avner and Yair.
The proposed private jet trip had led to some public criticism as well as decisions by Israel’s three major TV networks to pass on sending crews to cover the visit, instead assigning coverage to their US-based correspondents.
The networks reportedly felt that, denied onboard briefings by the premier and forced to stay at a Washington hotel at all times except for the ceremony, there was no justification to send teams of reporters from Israel.
Channel 12 news reported Friday that the private jet flight had been expected to cost at least NIS 600,000 ($145,000).
The move was criticized as coming on the eve of a possible second national lockdown to control the coronavirus pandemic in Israel, with many expected to further suffer financially as a result.
Explaining the initial decision, the Prime Minister’s Office said: “Due to fears that the prime minister could be infected with the coronavirus on a flight with more than 70 people, professional sources instructed the prime minister to fly in a separate plane that the State of Israel uses from time to time.”
The PMO had claimed the total cost of two planes flying to Washington would be half the amount that was spent to send a single plane for the prime minister on his last trip to Washington, citing the need for less security on the flight carrying the delegation.
Israel and the UAE announced they were normalizing relations on August 13, and a signing ceremony for their accord is being held at the White House on September 15.
Bahrain will now join that ceremony, with its foreign minister Abdullatif Al Zayani and Netanyahu signing “a historic Declaration of Peace,” the joint statement released by the White House said on Friday.