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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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The state will accelerate an inquiry into the possibility of acquiring a private plane for use by the president, prime minister and other officials on flights abroad. The announcement comes after widespread public condemnation over the high cost of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's trip to France and Canada, which begins tomorrow.

As reported Monday in Haaretz, the price of Netanyahu's trip has risen by some NIS 1.2 million due to special requests made by members of his bureau, including the installation of a double bed on the plane for the prime minister and his wife to allow a direct return flight to Israel. Netanyahu's bureau chartered an El Al Boeing 767 - a wide-bodied twinjet airliner - for the flight, raising the trip's cost by $300,000.

Members of Netanyahu's bureau said the choice of the plane was aimed at saving time, as the prime minister has a full workday scheduled after returning from Canada.

Haaretz has learned that the Prime Minister's Office recently engaged the private consulting firm Golden Number Solution to help it in choosing an aircraft to purchase. The disclosure emerged after a Knesset Finance Committee meeting on the matter, requested by MK Avi Dichter (Kadima ).

According to data presented by Dichter, Netanyahu's trips abroad cost the state at least NIS 17 million annually. Based on an estimate of between NIS 70 and 100 million for the cost of the aircraft, plus NIS 5 million a year for maintenance, the purchase would pay for itself after seven years. After that, it would save the state NIS 12 million a year.

Documents obtained by Haaretz show that Netanyahu's predecessor Ehud Olmert also chartered a 767 plane for trips to the United States and Japan, and on several occasions Olmert's bureau also asked El Al to install a bedroom on the plane. Still, the costs of Olmert's trips were slightly lower on average than those of his successor.

A June 2007 file from Olmert's bureau documenting the then-prime minister's trip to the United States showed that his bureau chief, Yoram Turbowicz, had "asked explicitly for a direct flight to the United States, and that there was no possibility of making a stopover and then holding meetings [the next day] due to political considerations and scheduling issues."