Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned down a July request by the attorney general to seek cabinet approval for the death penalty for terrorists, but only two days later said publicly he was in favor of the death penalty for terrorists, people at the cabinet meeting told Haaretz.
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The death penalty for terrorists is part of the army’s legal code in the West Bank and has been on the books since the British Mandate that ended in 1948. A death penalty requires discussion of the evidence even if the suspect confesses, a unanimous ruling by the judges in the lower and appellate court, and the possibility of the military commander commuting the sentence.
In the ‘80s, the military courts in the West Bank imposed the death penalty but it was never carried out. The last time such a penalty was imposed was on one of the perpetrators of the 2000 lynching in Ramallah of two Israeli soldiers, Yossi Avrahami and Vadim Nurzhitz. One of the three judges on the bench dissented, so the sentence could not be carried out.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman supports the death penalty and is trying to move ahead on it. During the July 25 cabinet meeting in which the ministers voted to remove the metal detectors from the Temple Mount entrances, Lieberman asked military prosecutors to seek the death penalty for the terrorist who had been apprehended after the killing of three members of the Salomon family in the West Bank.
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz supported Lieberman’s position. According to three sources familiar with the details of the meeting who requested anonymity, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit responded that the prosecution’s policy has long been not to seek the death penalty. He said the issue was complex and asked the cabinet’s approval to seek the death penalty in cases of particularly brutal murders. According to the sources, Netanyahu heard the remarks and said that this was not the subject under discussion.
But two days later, at a visit to the Salomons’ home, Netanyahu declared publicly that “the death penalty for terrorists is something whose time has come. It’s enshrined in law, the judges must be unanimous, but they also want to know the government’s position – and my position as prime minister in such a case, of such a despicable murderer, is that he should be executed. He simply should never smile anymore.”
Despite these statements, the military prosecutors decided not to seek the death sentence because the cabinet had not made a decision on the matter. A cabinet member told Haaretz that Netanyahu’s two contradictory statements torpedoed the vote.
Haaretz has not received a response from the prime minister since requesting it on Wednesday.
Last week Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party one again presented a bill that was rejected two years ago to install the death penalty and amend the law in the West Bank so that the death penalty could be imposed with two judges out of three ruling in favor. In any case, the bill does not circumvent Mendelblit’s discretion as head of the prosecution not to seek the death penalty.