Israeli Ministers Approve Bill Aimed at Blocking Prisoner Swaps

Bill, which would restrict presidential pardon of murderers, is bid to prevent government from releasing prisoners as part of negotiations with Palestinians.

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Freed Palestinian prisoners and supporters celebrate their release in 2008.
Freed Palestinian prisoners and supporters celebrate their release in 2008.Credit: AP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation passed a bill restricting presidential pardons for convicted murderers by a majority of seven to three on Sunday. This approval paves the way for the bill to be brought to Knesset for a preliminary vote.

The bill, intended by its proponents to impede the government's ability to release Palestinian and Arab Israeli prisoners, was promoted by lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum.

Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett congratulated Israel for "turning a new leaf on the war on terror and with its moral responsibility regarding the families of terror victims."

"Murderers should die in prison and not celebrate at home," he added.

Housing Minister Uri Ariel, a member of Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi party, said the new bill will form "significant deterrence to terrorism."

The bill says that "the court may determine that for certain reasons to be listed, the president may not pardon or ease a sentence by reducing it or changing it." In the appendix to the bill the MKs explain their express intention is to prevent diplomatic overtures or future prisoner swaps, which according to them lead to the "absurd situation in which terrorists who used murder as part of their struggle against Israel, are released a long time before the end of their sentence."

"This poses a moral failure since it makes light of the severity of the terrorists' actions and devalues the authority of the judicial system," the bill says.

The bill has no retroactive effect on prisoners currently serving out their sentence, and will only apply to those convicted following the bill's becoming law.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is also Israel's chief negotiator in talks with the Palestinians, opposed the bill, together with ministers Yael German and Yaakov Peri from the Yesh Atid party. Livni said earlier the bill limits the government's leeway in diplomatic negotiations, and that she will therefore vote against it.

The bill's proponents, led by MK Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) clarified they aim to prohibit pardons in other cases as well, particularly those which made a distinct public effect. MK David Zur (Hatnua) who went against his party leader and signed the bill, said on Saturday that the bill "is meant to give, in certain cases, another step above a life sentence and below a death penalty, which doesn't currently exist."

According to him, these cases include political assassinations, nationalistically motivated murders but also regular murder cases.

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