Israeli Cabinet Okays Purchase of Jet, New Residence for PM

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Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah at Ben-Gurion International Airport. The plane the PM and president will share will cost about 400 million shekels.Credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO

Israel's diplomatic-security cabinet recently approved the recommendations of a public commission for purchase of a jet for trips by the president and the prime minister, at a cost of 400 million shekels ($102 million), in addition to 30 million shekels to cover annual maintenance, and for construction of a new office and residence for the prime minister at a cost of 650 million shekels.

The new building will be part of the government complex in Jerusalem's Givat Ram quarter, between the Foreign Ministry and the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

The commission in question, headed by retired Supreme Court justice and former state comptroller Eliezer Goldberg, was appointed on March 15, 2013. Its members included former Israel Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. (res.) Ido Nehushtan and Iris Stark, former vice president of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Its conclusions were published on April 23, 2014.

The jet is scheduled to be purchased in 2016 and to become operational in 2017. In the past the IAF reserved a special plane for trips abroad by the country's leaders. Over the years, however, the aircraft became outdated and it was decided that they would use planes owned by commercial airlines.

Goldberg's panel subsequently decided that the present situation – in which the president travels via regular Israeli airlines flights and the prime minister on leased commercial jets – cannot continue. It recommended that the government purchase a special plane for these trips.

The committee discussed several options. Defense Ministry staff proposed the purchase of a 10- to 15-year-old plane at a cost $70 million, including necessary alternations; the annual cost for maintenance and operation of said plane was estimated to be $13 million. A company that advised the Goldberg panel submitted a lower estimate – an aircraft in use for up to 20 years which, with refitting, would cost $20-$40 million.

The deputy head of the National Security Council thought that the Defense Ministry proposal was too expensive, and told the panel that the target should be $40-$50 million.

According to the commission’s report, on January 30, 2013, Amos Shkedi, the Finance Ministry's senior vice accountant general, told the commission that in the opinion of accountant general Michal Abadi-Boiangiu, “as long as the project costs over $40 million, the purchase is not economically feasible.”

On February 2, 2014, the Finance Ministry budget division wrote the Goldberg committee that “in budgetary terms, the purchase of a plane makes it difficult to adhere to the expenditure target."

In its final report, the panel noted that, “in the opinion of the committee, the test of the economic feasibility of purchasing a special plane is not the only criterion that should be considered. The accountant general agreed, ... asserting that ‘in retrospect, it was not the right move to entrust this task to finance officials.'”

A nonfunctional structure

The plan for building an office and a residence for the prime minister in Givat Ram was approved by the Jerusalem District regional planning committee headed by Dalit Zilber, on October 13, 2015. Information relating to the project has been publicized to enable the public to voice any opposition it may have, within 60 days. Construction of the complex is expected to continue into the next decade.

The Goldberg commission noted that the essential needs and functions of the Prime Minister’s Residence are currently not being meant. It said that the present residence, on Balfour Street in central Jerusalem, is situated in an old, nonfunctional building which, for example, has no proper protected space for the prime minister and his cabinet in times of emergency, and is lacking in terms of up-to-date technology and in the ability to receive important guests properly.

The current structure, it was noted, does not meet earthquake-resistance standards, and has security-related problems – and this is in addition to the suffering caused residents by the closure of streets when the premier is transported to his bureau and back twice a day in a convoy.

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