As Deadline Looms, Coalition Seeks Difficult Consensus on PM Term Limits Bill

Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov
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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar, last week
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar, last weekCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov

On Sunday the leaders of the coalition are expected to discuss the law to limit the prime minister’s term in office. This comes amid significant disagreements between the various parties over which of the proposed bills to promote.

Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu demand a draconian version of a term limits law that would include a “cooling-off clause” limiting a former premier’s eligibility to be elected to the Knesset as well. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina, on the other hand, has made it clear that they will not support such a law.

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As previously reported by Haaretz, the term limits law was supposed to be included in the legislation section of the coalition agreements, but due to disagreements within the coalition it was left out and remained a mere declaration of intent.

According to the agreements, the law is to be advanced along with the other amendments to Basic Laws within 30 days of the formation of the government. However, seeing as there isn’t even an agreed-upon wording for the bill yet, it is doubtful the coalition will be able to advance it within a mere two weeks to keep to the agreed legislative schedule.

The agreement that does exist holds that an individual who has served as prime minister for eight years or two terms, whichever is longer, shall not be able to continue for another term. But there are two major disputes. The first is the question of application, and whether Netanyahu’s term shall be counted (that is, should the law be applied retroactively). In such a case where the law bans Netanyahu from ever seeking the premiership again, the law is very likely to come under stern judicial scrutiny and may even be stricken down by the High Court of Justice (where it may be argued that the law is invalid both for being retroactive and personal).

A sign reads 'Term Limits for ever Elected Official' at a demonstration in front of the Jerusalem District Court during a hearing in Netanyahu's trial in FebruaryCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The other dispute, as noted above, is the cooling-off period clause, which states that an individual, having served two terms or eight years as prime minister, will be barred from running for Knesset in the following four years. This clause was conceived by Zeev Elkin and demanded by his party, New Hope, during the coalition negotiations. On June 7, before the government was even formed, Yamina announced, “There is and will be no agreement regarding banning [candidates] from running for Knesset. The only thing that has been agreed is limiting the premier’s term to eight years or two terms.”

On Sunday the leaders of the coalition will have to arrive at a formula to address all these issues. At the moment, each party has its own version that it would like to promote, but no agreed-upon version.

At the same time, over the next week the Knesset will advance the rest of the coalition’s legislative amendments, among them amendments to Basic Law: Government and Basic Law: Knesset. These amendments assure the parity-based nature of the coalition and legally anchor the rotation between Bennett and Lapid.