Sa'ar Drafting Bill to Limit Prime Minister's Term, but Won't Apply Retroactively

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Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar at the Knesset, last month.
Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar at the Knesset, last month. Credit: Emil Salman

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar directed on Monday his ministry staff to prepare legislation that would limit the prime minister's term in office to eight years.

Sa'ar noted that the legislation would not apply retroactive, such that it would not apply to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who served 12 years consecutively in his second term as premier, which ended in June.

The legislation, formulated as a proposed amendment to the Basic Law on the Government, is will first have to be presented to the cabinet for its approval and only then to the Knesset.

The bill will be voted on during the Knesset's winter session, after the state budget is approved, Sa’ar noted. Haaretz has also learned that the justice minister also intends to advance a bill that would impose term limits on the country’s mayors.

Former Prime Minister and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset, this month. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Last month, Justice Ministry staff began work on legislation that would bar Israel’s president from tasking a Knesset member under criminal indictment with forming a new government.

Officials aim to pass the legislation before the next Israeli election. If such legislation is passed, Netanyahu, who is opposition head in the Knesset and also on trial for three cases involving charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, would not be able to be tasked with forming a government.

That bill is also expected to come before the Knesset in its winter session.

Among members of the cabinet, as well as members of Sa’ar’s New Hope party, support has been voiced for legislation imposing term limits on prime ministers to apply retroactively, and thus to Netanyahu. Housing Minister Zeev Elkin, also of New Hope, has sought for such a retroactive law to be passed, and also for the legislation to bar anyone who has served as premier for eight or more years from being elected as a Knesset member. Sa’ar, by contrast, has said that in his view, such legislation need not be retroactive.

At several private meetings, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has expressed adamant opposition to retroactive application of term limit legislation, on the grounds that it would be difficult for him to defend its validity from a legal standpoint and because in his view the High Court of Justice would be likely to strike it down.

Unlike a law that would bar the president from calling on a criminal defendant to form a government, a bill to limit the term of the prime minister has broad support in the governing coalition and is considered less controversial.

Sa’ar’s efforts to advance the legislation have been coordinated with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and with his consent. Following the most recent election in March, during negotiations aimed at forming a new government, even Netanyahu himself had said that he would be prepared to consider passing such legislation.