The cabinet approved proposed legislation on Sunday to enable courts to sentence terrorists to life in prison without any chance of presidential commutation.
The bill is aimed at preventing the large-scale release of convicted Palestinian terrorists in the future.
The legislation, which received the cabinet’s recommendation by a vote of 15-6 on Sunday and will now go to the Knesset, would allow courts to stipulate in sentencing a clause saying the president will not – as is the case today – have the powers to commute the sentence.
The cabinet also agreed the defense minister will be directed to apply this law to military courts in Judea and Samaria.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen and Health Minister Yael German, all from Yesh Atid, voted against, as did Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz, both from Hatnua.
Seventy-eight Palestinian terrorists were set free in three batches of prisoner releases since last August as part of a framework deal that led to eight months of negotiations with the PLO. Israel refused to release a final batch of 26 terrorists when it appeared the talks would not be extended past their nine-month deadline.
Each prisoner exchange sparked heated debate inside the country as to the morality and wisdom of releasing terrorists with “blood on their hands.”
“If Israel can’t stand by basic morality, which dictates that murderers should die in prison, then from now on there won’t be a choice,” he said. “If this law existed earlier, then maybe many murderers would have understood that it doesn’t pay to kill Jews.”
Bennett called the legislation a “Zionist response” to the Hamas-Fatah unity government.
Bayit Yehudi faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked, who co-sponsored the bill with MK David Tsur (Hatnua), said terrorists and people who murder children deserve similar, severe punishments.
“Freeing wholesale amounts of murderers in diplomatic deals makes a mockery of Israeli citizens and shows contempt for them,” she said.
Tsur said the bill does not only apply to terrorists or murderers motivated by nationalism.
“All murder is detestable and there are extraordinary cases... in which we should prevent the murderers from being able to receive a pardon, which is unjust,” he said.
“The bill strengthens judges’ authority by creating an additional level of punishment between life in prison and death sentences, which do not exist in Israel. This will increase deterrence and a sense of personal security for all citizens.”
Transportation Minister Israel Katz (Likud) said the law should be extended to include death sentences for terrorist murders, and that it should apply retroactively to all the terrorists in Israeli jails, including Fatah-Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti.
Peretz said the legislation was meant for PR purposes only and was deceiving the public.
“The bill only applies to future murders and not those who are in prison now. Therefore, it will not bring deterrence. Rather, it will damage Israel’s image and diplomatic standing, because the government is afraid to govern and is giving the responsibility to someone else [the courts],” the environmental protection minister said.
According to Peretz, the government needs to be able to negotiate releasing prisoners, including Barghouti.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal- On called the bill another punishment for the Palestinian unity government, which will tie Israel’s hands in peace talks.
“[Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu, who less than a year ago preferred a prisoner release to freezing settlements to continue diplomatic negotiations, gave in to the extreme Right and supports a demagogic bill that goes against Israel’s interests,” she said.
Almagor Terror Victims Organization director Lt.-Col. (res.) Meir Indoralso said the bill as it stands does not include thousands of murderers who were already sentenced and could be released in negotiations and as gestures.
To solve the problem, hundreds of bereaved families with Almagor demand to have the bill apply to terrorists who are already in prison, including those who were on the list for the fourth round [of prisoner releases in the last round of negotiations],” he said.