Israeli Ministers Okay Bill to Prohibit Pardon of Terrorists

The cabinet had been meant to vote on the bill last week, but Netanyahu stripped it from the agenda due to legal issues in the wording.

Palestinian prisoners at Israel's Megiddo Prison.
Palestinian prisoners at the Megiddo Prison. Itzik Ben-Malki

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet on Sunday approved a bill that prohibits granting pardons to terrorists. Ministers from Likud, Habayit Hayehudi and Yisrael Beiteinu voted in favor of the bill, while those from Yesh Atid and Hatnuah opposed.

The cabinet was meant to vote on the bill last Sunday, but Netanyahu decided to cut it from the agenda after consulting with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who found legal issues with the wording of the bill.  

Weinstein took issue most with the fact that the bill’s description does not mention a prohibition on releasing terrorists within the framework of negotiations, while the proposed law would apply to all terrorists in custody. Weinstein added that it is also problematic to determine such considerations ahead of time, thus it was decided to pass the bill to the cabinet for review.

The draft bill states that judges will be able to forbid the president to pardon terrorists: "The court is allowed to rule that for special reasons that will be written down, the president will not pardon and will not lighten the punishment by reducing or converting it," the bill reads.

 "It is beyond me why the government would want to pass such a law," Weinstein said. "This law will tie the hands of the government."

Habayit Hayehudi party members were furious with the postponement of the vote, as bill was part of a deal between Habayit Hayehudi and Yesh Atid, under which the former supported the latter’s surrogacy bill in the cabinet last week.

A senior Habayit Hayehudi official told Haaretz that “Netanyahu gave in at the last minute. In contrast with agreements, he canceled the vote on the bill and his decision will have ramifications on the coalition’s ability to function. We mustn’t forget: Netanyahu released more murderers while in office than any other prime minister. Every day that this law goes unpassed is a danger to Israeli citizens.”

At Bennett’s urging, Netanyahu committed to bring the bill to the cabinet for discussion this week.

The MKs pushing for the initiative explained that their specific intention is to prevent diplomatic gestures or hostage exchange deals.

MK Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), who initiated the bill, said that the law is designed to prevent pardons for murderers, even those not politically motivated.  MK David Tsur (Hatnuah), another proponent, described the bill "as designed to provide, in certain cases, an additional level, more than life imprisonment and less than a death sentence."

Ministers opposing the bill see it as subversive and limiting: "This is a law that bypasses the leadership, which ties the hand of the government and undermines the chances for a future diplomatic agreement," Science Minister Jacob Perry said last Sunday before it was decided to postpone the vote.