The government's first meeting on Sunday revealed a dispute between members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition
and the Finance Ministry over the funding of the pope's security during his visit to Israel, scheduled for next week.
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Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government allotted NIS 43 million ($10.3 million) to the security of Pope Benedict XVI and the upgrading of infrastructure in the areas he is slated to visit. However the Finance Ministry has not yet agreed to implement this ruling.
While the government debated the option of charging Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov with the pope's affairs, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch was given the podium and reflected upon the deficit in the funds allotted so far.
Aharonovitch claimed the Finance Ministry had so far transferred just NIS 5 million (about $1.2 million), and that most of it had been used to upgrade roads and infrastructure in an effort to improve them for long-term use.
"The Finance Ministry is attempting to catch two birds with one stone – to fund the renovation ahead of the visit and to prevent future appeals by the municipalities," he said. "Meanwhile the police budget for the visit's security has been abandoned."
The minister warned that police would not be able to handle the visit with the current budget, as a number of events occurring within the next two months, such as the Nakba, also require excessive funds.
He said that if additional funds were not transferred "the money will be subtracted from other places. It may harm more important issues, from manpower to equipment. We will secure the visit, but the government will be hurt."
Netanyahu ordered his new finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, to meet with Aharonovitch in order to find a solution.
The Finance Ministry responded in a statement that said, "The government has not yet decided upon the origins of funding for the pope's visit."