Gilad Schalit released by Hamas captors as part of prisoner swap in 2011..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When it came out in summer 2014 that a Palestinian prisoner released during the 2011 Gilad Schalit prisoner exchange had murdered a top police official, Yisrael Beytenu, Bayit Yehudi and many within the Likud pushed hard to block similar future deals.
In the fall of 2014, just before early elections were called, it looked like they had the votes to succeed.
While Monday’s landmark terrorism bill – which the Knesset’s legislative committee sent to the plenum for its three votes to final passage – is aimed at expanding tools in the fight against terrorism, many have missed the fact that it does not contain a section on blocking future Schalit deals.
Trying to paper over the issue, press releases from officials taking credit for the bill emphasized that prisoners sentenced to life for terrorist crimes could be prevented from an early release and made to serve a minimum of 40 years.
But The Jerusalem Post has learned that this provision applies only to the regular parole board procedures and not to possible prisoner exchanges and pardons.
Originally, the 40-year sentence was supposed to be a significant, if not absolute, limit on prisoner releases.
The issue even passed the same committee in September 2014.
Former MK Orit Struck (Bayit Yehudi), who co-sponsored the legislation, said at the time that the version authorized by the committee was “the little we could do to take Israel off the dangerous, slippery slope of releasing murderous terrorists.”
In what turned out to be a premature victory speech, she added: “This bill will allow the courts to prevent in advance the release of especially cruel murderers in deals or diplomatic decisions. This goes together with an excellent law we passed in the [Knesset’s] winter session, which allowed the government to put previously released prisoners back in jail. This way, step by step, we will return to the State of Israel its responsibility and sanity on this matter.”
A different law was passed in 2014 empowering judges to block pardons for certain terrorists sentenced to life in prison. But if they exercised such authority, they would be doing something unprecedented.
The Struck bill, by contrast, would have called for an automatic life-sentence (at least 40 years) for certain grave terrorist cases. Such cases would not have been subject to parole reductions or altered for prisoner exchanges.
But then Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein opposed the bill with the strong backing of the entire legal establishment, in order to avoid tying the state’s hands in unforeseeable scenarios.
One of the reasons newly installed Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman had sought to reinstitute the death penalty was to prevent the worst terrorists from being released in future Schalit-like deals.
His initiative also did not get very far, reportedly due to opposition from the government’s legal establishment.
But at a certain point, the prime minister can move ahead with legislation if the attorney-general just puts up a warning sign and not a red light.
It seems then that even if there are no current Schalit deals publicly on the table, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not want anyone tying his hands either.