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Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer recently decided to issue new banknotes with images of Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl and three former prime ministers: David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin.

The new banknotes will go into circulation gradually over the next two years.

Herzl and the three prime ministers will be replacing national leaders including former prime minister Moshe Sharett, author S.Y. Agnon and former presidents Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and Zalman Shazar, whose images currently grace the bills.

The central bank also decided against issuing a NIS 500 bill, which has been proposed numerous times.

Herzl and Ben-Gurion have already appeared on bank notes in years past. The likeness of the Austrian journalist who is considered the father of modern Zionism appeared on a 100-lira note as well as a NIS 10 bill.

Ben-Gurion, the country's first prime minister, appeared on a 500-lira note as well as a NIS 50 bill.

The current set of bills was first introduced in 1999. Economies the world over are accustomed to printing new bills every few years, mainly in order to combat counterfeiting.

Polymer bills stronger

Last year the government introduced a new NIS 20 bill made of polymer rather than the cotton-based paper used to produce the NIS 50, NIS 100 and NIS 200 notes. The printing was considered a success, making it likely that the new bills will also use polymer.

The polymer bills are much more durable than the paper notes. The new NIS 20 bill, for example, has an average shelf life of 5.4 years, while the paper variety lasts just 1.9 years on average.

The polymer bills also preserve their quality and appearance over time, which cannot be said for the paper notes. However, it costs 1.5 times as much to print a polymer note, and the central bank has yet to decide what material to use for the new bills.

The new set of notes will also be equipped with some of the most advanced anti-counterfeiting technologies.

"With the new set of bills, the bank will be at the forefront of the technological stage on all matters related to the war against counterfeiting," the Bank of Israel said. "The security measures will be friendly to the public so that it will be possible, with relative ease, to spot counterfeit money."

The decision to print a new set of notes was made in accordance with a recommendation by a committee that has been headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Yaacov Turkel since last March. The panel considers all matters related to printing and minting new bills and coins, including their designs. It includes 12 members who serve on a pro bono basis.

The committee members, who include graphic artists, journalists and archaeologists, have a wide range of expertise. The panel decides which portraits will be displayed on both sides of the note and what color the note will be. The faces of politicians have been adorning banknotes for the past 25 years.