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Netanyahu clings to prime minister’s residence

The Netanyahu family is still living in the official residence on Jerusalem's Balfour Street even though Benjamin Netanyahu is no longer prime minister.
Israelis demonstrate outside the court as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption trial resumes in occupied East Jerusalem, Feb. 8, 2021.

Six days after the swearing-in ceremony of the new government and of new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, on June 13, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara and their son Yair still live at the official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. Reports earlier this week said Netanyahu will not leave the official residence for another several weeks at least.

Netanyahu is taking advantage of the fact that Israel has no official regulations on vacating the premier’s residence. He is also taking advantage of the fact that Bennett’s family plans to remain in their private home in Ra’anana, near Tel Aviv, for the time being. Bennett plans to live in Ra’anana during the week, and use the residence on Balfour Street for official meetings and on weekends.

The Shin Bet and the Ra’anana municipality have already taken steps to secure the house and to limit accessibility to the surrounding streets. Already before his swearing-in, associates of Bennett said he and his wife Gilat were not keen on relocating their four children from schools in the town where they live. The Netanyahu family has done the opposite, staying at the official residence during the week and returning to their family home in Caesarea on weekends.

The official Jerusalem residence had become a symbol of Netanyahu’s clinging to power. Over the past two years, many anti-Netanyahu demonstrations took place nearby, nicknamed “the Balfour protest.” The Crime Minister group, which had led the anti-Netanyahu protests, sent a letter June 16 to the prime minister’s office on that issue. It threatened to petition the High Court if Netanyahu does not vacate the official prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem by June 27. Addressing the prime minister’s legal adviser Shlomit Barnea, the group demanded that her office set a date, no later than two weeks after the June 13 swearing-in of the new government, for Netanyahu to leave the house.

“We will not allow a [criminal] defendant who lost the election to fortify himself in the residence, turning it into a facility for his private affairs from which he fights the elected government. It is time, after 12 years of alienation and disconnect, for the Netanyahu family to understand that the prime minister’s residence is a public resource and kindly vacate the premises within a short period of time, as is the practice in a proper democracy,” the group stated.

Public uproar broke out after a meeting June 14 held by Netanyahu at the residence with former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. Haley posted on Twitter a photo of herself with Netanyahu and with Christians United for Israel founder John Hagee, all three standing by the staircase, the same way official dignitaries are traditionally welcomed by the prime minister and photographed. Haley wrote, "Time with Prime Minister Netanyahu is always invaluable. His contributions to Israeli security and prosperity are historic. We have not heard the last of him."

This is not the first time Netanyahu has an issue with vacating the prime minister’s official residence. In 2016, Israeli press quoted then-Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking on that issue exactly, in a private meeting with settlers evacuated from the Amona outpost in the West Bank. Reportedly, Netanyahu told the evacuated settlers that he felt their pain, since he, too, was once kicked out of his home after losing Israel's 1999 elections, stating, "I understand what it is to lose a home. After the 1999 elections, without any warning, my family and I were driven out of the [prime minister's residence], just thrown on the street. We had to go to the Sheraton Plaza. It's a terrible feeling."

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