Peres moving to rented apartment in David’s Village

Leaking roof, no hot water forces president to relocate.

December 27, 2011 03:00
president's residence after rain

president's residence after rain_311. (photo credit: yossef avi)

For the second time in slightly less than a year, Israel’s number one citizen is on the verge of being homeless.

Due to the special security precautions that have to be taken with regard to the president, it has been very difficult to find an alternative accommodation for him.

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Shimon Peres temporarily moved out of the presidential complex early in 2011, not so much in terms of his private quarters, but insofar as the public areas were concerned.

For several months, the president conducted his official functions at the King David and Inbal hotels in Jerusalem, where security was upgraded to the extent that hotel security staff was even more stringent than the president’s regular security detail.

This time it’s not just public areas that are undergoing serious repair, but also the president’s private abode above his office.

“It’s simply not fit for habitation,” Yoram Raviv, deputy director-general at the President’s Residence said Monday.

It’s no secret Peres had been sharing his abode with termites, whose existence was discovered only when renovations were made to the kitchen. The termites had been closeted behind the tiles.

But matters really came to a head in late November when Peres was hosting the presidents of Palau and Vanuatu and a pipe burst causing part of the ceiling to collapse. Water started pouring out of the ceiling and the walls, and water also seeped through the floors.

The water coming through the ceiling also affected the electrical wiring, which was already faulty and quite dangerous.

In the interim, the infrastructure has been deteriorating at a rapid pace causing damage to floor tiles and to parquet strips.

President Zalman Shazar, Israel’s third president, was the first head of state to occupy the complex took up residence in 1971.

Since then, according to Raviv, there have been no major repairs. Any repairs or renovations that were carried out, dealt only with a specific and immediate problem or project such as modernizing the public toilets or upgrading the air conditioning, but no one seemed to realize the infrastructure needed a complete overhaul, said Raviv.

When Peres took up office in July 2007, he asked his senior staff to look into the possibility of rehabilitating the building.

He was also keen to get rid of a series of columns in the main reception area because they not only obstructed vision, but hampered seating arrangements during regular functions, and table arrangements for state dinners.

Peres made it clear that if approval for the work was obtained from the relevant state, government and legislative bodies, his personal quarters were to be given the least priority. He was much more interested in renovating the public areas.

While bureaucracy posed a big enough problem, an even greater problem was acquiring the funds needed for the work.

The first project in the renewal of the complex was the huge garden area that encircles the whole property. It was important to Peres that the garden be completed in time for the 2009 visit by Pope Benedict XVI. It’s doubtful the Treasury would have made funds available for this purpose, but the Jewish National Fund came to the rescue with a $3 million grant.

For the initial work inside the building, the Knesset last year approved a $500,000 grant from the Rothschild Foundation.

The funding required from the remaining work will not depend on the generosity of any philanthropic foundation, nor will it come out of the taxpayers’ pockets. Like all state building the President’s Residence is insured against damage, and the insurance company will foot the bill said Raviv.

Nothing in the complex, including safety and accessibility, meets with current standards, he pointed out. Everything may have conformed to the standards that were in force in 1971, but those standards do not apply today, Raviv said.

Reporters were shocked to see the conditions under which Peres has been living.

“No ordinary person would put up with such a situation, but he hasn’t complained,” said Raviv, adding that the president can’t even take a hot shower, because there is no hot water.

Moreover, the roof is leaking.

Anyone in the real estate business would just gut the whole property and start again from scratch. The law precludes such action where the President’s Residence is concerned, said Raviv. The residence is among the heritage properties targeted for preservation and must remain as is. For instance, special permission had to be obtained from the architect in charge of preservation, to remove the offending columns.

Only after he had ascertained that this was indeed a necessary measure, did he give his approval.

Likewise, even though Raviv was completely au fait with what was needed by way of infrastructural improvements, he had to bring in experts to confirm his assessment.

The immediate problems of wiring, replacement of electrical fixtures and of water pipes will hopefully be carried out over the next two weeks, but there’s much more infrastructural work to be done.

Raviv doubted it would be completed during what is left of Peres’s seven-year tenure.

But at least the president’s private quarters will be in good shape for Peres’s successor, he said.

The reason for the delay is that tenders have to be published and bids examined – a process that could take up to a year.

At that stage, it would not be fair to inconvenience Peres any more than he has been inconvenienced already.

Meanwhile after 10 possible options that are reasonably close to the President’s Residence were inspected, it was decided by Efrat Duvdevani, the director-general of the President’s Office that Peres will move to a rented apartment in David’s Village on January 1.

He will still conduct official functions in the two reception halls at his official residence and will travel between his two addresses two or three times a day.

It is anticipated that he will remain at David’s Village for at least four months.

Though a luxury project, David’s Village is a ghost town. Most of the apartments are owned by absentee landlords, who prefer not to rent them out.

This is an almost sure-fire guarantee that none of the neighbors will come asking for a cup of sugar, but it’s going to be even lonelier for Peres to live there, than to live alone in the President’s Residence.

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