A bill seeking to limit presidential pardons for terrorists and murderers moved toward becoming law Wednesday, passing a preliminary reading in the Knesset.
The legislation, which has Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s support, is meant to prevent large-scale releases of Palestinian terrorists by giving courts the option to sentence terrorists and murderers to life in prison with a clause denying the president’s right to commute the sentence.
“Today, the Knesset said: Enough lawlessness,” Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said after the vote. “If the State of Israel couldn’t follow basic morality, which says murderers need to die in prison, then now it will have to do so.”
According to Bennett, if this law had passed earlier, many murderers may have understood that “it doesn’t pay to kill Jews.”
Since last August, 78 Palestinian terrorists were released in three instances as part of eight months of negotiations with the PLO .
Should the proposal by Bayit Yehudi faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked and MK David Tsur (Hatnua) become law, it will only apply to those who are convicted in the future, but not current prisoners.
Earlier this week, the cabinet decided that the defense minister will apply the law to military courts in Judea and Samaria.
“There is a consensus in this house that murderers, like of the Fogel family [five members were killed by two Palestinian men], should rot in jail for the rest of their lives,” Shaked said.
Shaked pointed out that there is a death penalty in Israeli military courts, which hasn’t been used since 1994. The judges in that case said Israel must defend its citizens and the courts play a part in doing so.
“In the end, another court lightened the sentence and two years ago, that murderer was released in exchange for [captive soldier Gilad] Schalit. In Israel today, a court decision isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. In special cases of horrible murders, judges should give a verdict that the government will respect,” she said.
Deputy Minister for Liaison with the Knesset Ophir Akunis said the government learned that releasing terrorists is immoral and unwise from a defense perspective.
“I think that parties that wave the flag of human rights should be fair,” he said. “It would be moral and just to support this important law. We hear the massive public opinion in the US against releasing terrorists and murderers in exchange for prisoners. Doing so doesn’t bring peace, it distances it and increases terror.”
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On spoke out against the bill, saying that she doesn’t expect anything from the “right-wing extremist” Bayit Yehudi, but that Netanyahu shouldn’t punish the Palestinians for forming a unity government. “You are limiting yourself in diplomatic negotiations. Does anyone really think that we wouldn’t release terrorists if another soldier is captured? You, prime minister, released thousands of soldiers instead of freezing settlements.”
According to Gal-On, this bill is part of the extreme Right’s efforts to prevent a peace agreement.
The bill passed its preliminary reading with 36 in favor and 20 opposed, and will be sent to the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee for preparation for the next vote.