Draft Bill for PM Term Limits Won't Apply Retroactively, Freeing Netanyahu for Another Run

'By nature, a prolonged tenure in this powerful post is liable to lead to an excessive concentration of power,' says the Israeli Justice Ministry's draft legislation aiming to limit PM's tenure to eight years

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Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar, in April.
Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar, in April.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The Justice Ministry unveiled draft legislation Tuesday that would limit a prime minister’s total time in office to eight years, but the bill won't allow apply retroactively, allowing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu to serve again.

In principle, Benjamin Netanyahu could serve as prime minister for an additional eight years, despite having served more than 12 consecutive years from 2009-21 and also for three years in 1996-99.

But the eight-year limit is cumulative, so it would apply even to a prime minister whose terms of office weren’t consecutive.

The ministry plans to submit the bill only after the state budget passes in late November, in line with an agreement reached by the government’s members not to deal with any controversial legislation until the budget passes.

The preamble to the bill says that serving as prime minister “gives the office holder great political and public power. By nature, a prolonged tenure in this powerful post is liable to lead to an excessive concentration of power in the hands of the person filling it and could therefore have harmful effects.”

The bill is meant to “limit these harmful effects” by limiting a prime minister’s time in power, the notes added.

The bill says that if a prime minister is in office when his eight-year limit is reached, the government will automatically dissolve. At that point, either someone else will form a new government or new elections will be held.

The term limit will not apply to a vice or deputy prime minister.

Unlike the controversial proposal to pass legislation barring someone under indictment from forming a government, there is broad support for the term-limits bill within the governing coalition. Even Netanyahu, who is currently the opposition leader, has said in the past that he would consider supporting such legislation.

Nevertheless, its passage isn’t guaranteed despite being included in the coalition agreements, because not all coalition parties have yet promised to support it.

Some of the coalition parties also support barring someone under indictment from forming a government – a proposal that would effectively bar Netanyahu from becoming prime minister while his trial is ongoing. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has not yet said what his party’s position will be, and the bill needs his support to pass.

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