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Benjamin Netanyahu's 12-year tenure as Israel's prime minister ended Sunday, and giving up the prime minister's seat proved challenging, literally and figuratively.
Israel's Channel 12 reported Monday that Netanyahu's office told new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett he will not vacate the official prime minister's residence for several more weeks, at least. Bennett, who plans to continue living at his home in Ra'anana for the foreseeable future, was reportedly indifferent to the news, but plenty of Israelis are irritated, especially after Netanyahu was photographed hosting foreign dignitaries at the official Balfour Street residence Monday night.
An anti-Netanyahu group, Crime Minister, warned the Prime Minister's Office on Tuesday it will petition the High Court of Justice for redress if Netanyahu, his wife, Sara, and son Yair don't vacate the residence by June 27. The group noted that it took the Netanyahus six weeks to move out of the official residence the last time he was voted out of office, in 1999.
"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," Crime Minister said in a letter to Prime Minister's Office legal adviser Shlomit Barnea.
Barnea recommended on Saturday that the state stop paying the utility bills at the official residence as long as Netanyahu remains living there, and also stop paying for the chefs, cleaners, and other residential expenses at both the official residence and the Netanyahu private residence in Caesarea. Barnea's legal opinion requires approval from the Justice Ministry to take effect.
"Balfour Street" has become "a byword for what detractors saw as the increasingly polarizing, anti-democratic and monarchical impulses" of the Netanyahu family, The New York Times reports, an "imperial fortress" that also came to mean whatever machinations or scandals the Netanyahus were engulfed in.
Israel has no protocols for transferring power, but this "isn't Netanyahu's personal castle," Tal Schneider writes in The Times of Israel. "For years, critics have accused Netanyahu of conflating the state's needs with his own. Now it seems that as far as he is concerned, Bennett is just a guest in the Prime Minister's Office, the new coalition will collapse within weeks, and he, Netanyahu, will quickly be back in power. Given that premise, why bother to pack his bags?"