JERUSALEM – The paparazzi enthusiastically take snapshots of haphazardly moving trucks near the Prime Minister’s official residence in Jerusalem. Political cartoonists are depicting Benjamin Netanyahu, former Israeli prime minister, his wife Sara and their eldest son, Yair, squatters.
And suspicions that Mr. Netanyahu might be reluctant to leave the stately home where he has lived for 12 years were heightened this week when he welcomed Nikki Haley, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, to the official residence as if they were still running the show.
Unlike Washington, there is no set deadline before which an outgoing Israeli prime minister must move out and hand the house over to the victor and this can often take weeks, although it’s not as if the Netanyahu family don’t. had nowhere to go. Among their private residences is a house in the seaside town of Caesarea.
But their relocation plans, if they exist, have become a subject of feverish speculation for a number of reasons.
For starters, Mr. Netanyahu accused his successor, Naftali Bennett, who was sworn in on Sunday, of committing the “fraud of the century” by using the voices of his right-wing constituency to lead an ideologically diverse coalition that Mr. Netanyahu has. qualified as a “dangerous left” government.
He embraced his new role as the leader of the fighting opposition eagerly while swearing to his own base that he will be back in power “sooner than you think”, which gives the impression that it is not worth it. maybe not worth uprooting the family. of the residence that detractors said they had turned into a castle.
Mr. Bennett, for his part, does not seem in a rush to move in.
A resident of Ra’anana, a prosperous suburban town in central Israel, he has four children in schools in the area and has made it known that at least initially he will use the official residence for mainly ceremonial purposes. and maybe for family weekends.
Sparking public outrage, Ms Haley posted on Twitter a photo of her meeting with Mr Netanyahu on Monday and wrote: “The time spent with Prime Minister @netanyahu is always invaluable. Its contributions to Israel’s security and prosperity are historic. We don’t have his latest news.
Next, a lawyer for the Crime Minister, a group that campaigned for Mr. Netanyahu’s resignation after he was accused of corruption, sent a letter to the legal adviser in the prime minister’s office asking him to set a deadline later this month for the family to vacate the mansion or face legal action.
The lawyer, Gonen Ben Izhak, argued that the meeting with Ms Haley in the house “undermined the prime minister-elect and caused real damage to the symbols of government and democracy”, as well as Mr. Netanyahu to delegitimize Mr. Bennett’s coalition.
Ms. Haley’s reference to “Prime Minister” Netanyahu also aroused stigma. The most lenient explanation, some critics mentionned, was that she had used the term in the honorary way that former US presidents are still referred to as president.
“Semantics matters” wrote Amir Haskel, another veteran anti-Netanyahu activist, on Twitter. “From today say: Deputy Benjamin Netanyahu, opposition chairman (former prime minister). “
The prime minister’s office did not respond to questions about the legality of a former prime minister welcoming foreign dignitaries into the official residence, possible move dates, or information that the office’s legal adviser recommended to the state to stop covering the expenses of the Netanyahu family at the residence, including food and laundry, from Sunday evening, when Mr. Bennett was sworn in.
A person close to the Netanyahu family said this week that the question of when they would leave the official residence had not yet been discussed and that there had never been any questions about the legality of Mr. Netanyahu continuing to do so. ” organize meetings there. The Justice Department said inquiries should be directed to the prime minister’s office.
The Netanyahu have lived in the residence continuously since Mr. Netanyahu was elected 12 years ago, in 2009. He served a previous three-year term, from 1996 to 1999.
This time it took the family six weeks to leave the residence. The move was marked by scandal when police, in a separate investigation, searched Netanyahu’s apartment, storage rooms and offices and seized boxes of valuable gifts she suspected belonged to. the state and not the former prime minister.
“Then it was three years of accumulated gifts,” said Ben Caspit, an Israeli commentator and author of two biographies of Netanyahu. “Now it’s been 12 years. “