Cabinet to discuss proposal to purchase plane, build new residence for PM

Lapid objects proposal, saying government should demonstrate austerity in times of financial hardship.

PM Netanyahu boards a plane 311 (R) (photo credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters)
PM Netanyahu boards a plane 311 (R)
(photo credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters)
The cabinet will discuss Sunday a proposal by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to purchase a private airplane for official state trips as well as building a new office and official residence for the prime minister.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres are expected to make use of the airplane.
If passed by the cabinet, a public committee will be formed to examine the cost-effectiveness of the proposal.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid expressed objection to the proposal on Sunday morning, saying there is no financial justification to purchasing an airplane and building a new residence.
"Ethically, I believe that in these days of tightening the belt and raising taxes, as the gaps between rich and poor are among the highest in the world, it is appropriate that the Israeli government demonstrates austerity and does not make decisions that would lead the public to feel like its leadership is disconnected from everyday hardship of citizens," Lapid wrote in his objection.
Experts who previously examined similar proposals have found that purchasing an airplane would increase expenses significantly, not just for the purchase of the plane, but also for its maintenance, operation and storage, Lapid said.
According to Lapid, the proposal is estimated at NIS 800 million.
Netanyahu was criticized three times in the past for costly and unnecessary demands for planes chartered for his official visits.
In May, Netanyahu asked to install a bedroom on his plane to London for the funeral of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, an addition that reportedly cost half a million shekels.
Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said then that Netanyahu had no idea how much it would cost.
In May 2010, Netanyahu flew to Paris for a ceremony accepting Israel into the OECD, and continued from there to Canada. Globes reporter Lilach Weissman reported at the time that the prime minister requested that a bedroom be put on the plane.
The Prime Minister’s Office rented an El Al Boeing 767 midsize, wide-body airliner, at the cost of NIS 310,000 more than an Arkia or Israir Boeing 757 mid-size, narrow-body plane that cannot have a bedroom installed in it.
Almost a year later, the PMO issued a tender for flights to Berlin and then Prague to take place on April 6, 2011, which required a bedroom be put on the aircraft.
The flight to Berlin was four hours long and took place in the afternoon, and travel time from Berlin to Prague was about one hour.
A day after the tender for the flight was issued, the PMO canceled the demand for a bed, amid public criticism.
Last year, Netanyahu appointed a committee of ministers led by Transportation Minister Israel Katz that also included the Finance Ministry, Shin Bet and National Security Council chairman Yaakov Amidror, to make a final decision on the matter. The committee determined that a private plane would be cheaper and safer than renting commercial planes.
According to the Finance Ministry’s calculations, a plane would cost the government about NIS 100 million, plus approximately NIS 5m. in maintenance each year. The investment is expected to pay for itself within five years. After 10 years the government would save NIS 12m. annually, which it currently pays to private airlines.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.