Israel passes bill that will limit the release of Palestinian prisoners
The cabinet on Sunday approved proposed legislation to enable courts to convict terrorists to life in prison without any chance of a presidential commutation of their sentences.
The bill, co-sponsored by Bayit Yehudi MK Ayelet Shaked and Hatnua's MK David Tsur, is aimed at preventing the large scale release of convicted Palestinian terrorists in the future.
The law, which received the cabinet's recommendation by a vote of 15 – 6, would allow courts to stipulate in sentencing a clause saying that the president will not – as is the case today – have the powers to commute the sentences.
The cabinet also agreed that the Defense Minister will be directed to apply this law to the military courts in Judea and Samaria as well.
Some 78 Palestinian terrorists were set free in three batches of prisoner releases since last August as part of a framework deal that led to eight months of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Israel refused to release a final batch of 26 terrorists when it appeared that the talks would not be extended past their original nine month deadline. Each prisoner exchanged sparked heated debate inside the country as to the morality and wisdom of releasing terrorists with "blood on their hands."
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said the bill "puts an end to the 'get out of jail free' card for murderers, which exists only in Israel.
"If Israel can't stand by basic morality, which dictates that murderers should die in prison, then from now on there won't be a choice," the Bayit Yehudi leader added. "If this law existed earlier, then maybe many murderers would have understood that it doesn't pay to kill Jews."
Bennett also called the legislation a "Zionist response" to the Hamas-Fatah unity government.
The bill does not ban the president from pardoning and releasing terrorist prisoners who have already been sentenced to life in prison.
It empowers individual judges or a panel of judges on a given case with the discretion to include within their life sentence decree an additional paragraph that would ban the president from pardoning and releasing the specific prisoner before them.
The legislation in question, proposed by Bayit Yehudi faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked and MK David Tsur (Hatnua), was submitted in light of the prisoner releases in the latest round of talks with the Palestinians.
The bill would allow courts to sentence “special case” murderers to life in prison without an option of being pardoned by the president. It would apply only to those sentenced in the future, not current prisoners, who could still be used as bargaining chips in negotiations
Shaked said terrorists and people who murder children deserve similar, severe punishments.
"Freeing wholesale amounts of murderers in diplomatic deals makes a mockery of Israeli citizens and shows contempt for them," she stated.
Tsur also emphasized that the bill does not only apply to terrorists or murder motivated by nationalism.
"All murder is detestable and there are extraordinary cases…in which we should prevent the murderers from being able to receive a pardon, which is unjust," he explained. "The bill strengthens judges' authority by creating an additional level of punishment between life in prison and death sentences, which do not exist in Israel. This will increase deterrence and a sense of personal security for all citizens."
Last week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu angered Bennett by delaying the government vote on the bill.
The presidential pardon bill was supposed to be part of a compromise between the Bayit Yehudi and Yesh Atid parties to get past their legislative deadlock of the last few weeks, in which each party would submit an appeal against the other’s bills.
According to the deal, each party would vote against the other’s controversial bills on Sunday and they would no longer block each other’s proposals with ministerial appeals. As such, a proposal allowing singles and same-sex couples to become parents via surrogacy was approved by the ministers.
However, as item after item on the agenda went by in the cabinet meeting, Bennett became visibly agitated, asking several times, “what about our bill?” “There is no deal [with Yesh Atid] anymore. Netanyahu ruined it,” a Bayit Yehudi source said, adding that she is “annoyed that [the prime minister] gave in to pressure from the Left and [Attorney- General Yehuda] Weinstein.”