Israel Mulls Setting Term Limit From Prime Ministers - but Not for Netanyahu

Justice minister to initiate bill limiting prime ministers to 8 years in office that would also prevent charges being brought against a sitting PM for misdemeanors and lesser crimes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and author of the "transparency bill," Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in Knesset chambers, October 13, 2015.
Moti Milrod

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is sponsoring a bill that would limit prime ministers to a maximum of two terms in office.

The bill would also prevent charges being brought against a sitting prime minister for misdemeanors and lesser crimes.

Minister Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) is looking into the possibility of presenting the bill as government-sponsored legislation that would not apply to current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The first part of the bill would restrict the prime minister’s time in office to eight years.

The second part states that a sitting prime minister would be immune from prosecution on lesser charges of white-collar crime, such as bribery and accepting illicit benefits. A sitting prime minister, according to the bill, could be indicted only on serious charges such as murder or major security infractions.

The bill states that any suspicions against a sitting prime minister could be investigated while the prime minister is in office, but an indictment could be served only after the prime minister has left office.

“An eight-year term allows for real change and applying policy, but continuing the term beyond this period does not strengthen the health of democracy. However, during a prime minister’s term, there is value in stability to maintain a stable economy and safeguard the citizens of Israel,” Shaked said.

She added that frequent elections were destabilizing, and therefore “it is right to fortify good governance, and distinguish between cases requiring new elections and those that don’t.”

MK David Amsalem in a Knesset committee meeting, July 2016.
Emil Salman

The government is to vote Sunday on whether to support a separate bill prohibiting the investigation of a sitting prime minister. The bill was sponsored by the chairman of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, David Amsalem (Likud). Sources in the opposition said Amsalem is taking advantage of the fact that as committee chairman, he is responsible for Knesset oversight of the police to weaken investigators.

However, Amsalem said the legislation was a matter of principle and was not intended to help Netanyahu evade investigators. He noted that a clause in the bill stated that it would not apply to investigations launched before the bill became law.

Amsalem’s bill, which is framed as an amendment to the Basic Law on the Government, states: “The attorney general will not authorize the interrogation under warning [meaning ahead of possible criminal charges] of a sitting prime minister, other than for offenses involving sex, violence, security or drugs, or if postponement of the investigation could cause significant security or economic damage.”

Another clause in his bill states that the statute of limitations would not apply to an offense allegedly committed by a sitting prime minister, the investigation of which was postponed until the prime minister left office. In explaining the reasoning behind the bill, it states: “The prime minister must make crucial decisions on issues impacting the entire public, including in the realm of politics, defense, the economy and social issues. For this reason, the prime minister should be entirely focused on dealing with these issues.”