The cabinet on Sunday rejected an appeal against a bill that would bar the release of Palestinian prisoners serving life sentences without parole, effectively removing the option to use prisoners as a bargaining chip with the Palestinians.
The bill was the subject of intense debate during the cabinet meeting, the NRG news site reported.
The bill, which still must get an okay from the Knesset, had been approved two weeks ago, resulting in an appeal by Yesh Atid MK Yaakov Peri.
The measure would only apply to those sentenced in the future and not those currently serving time in jail.
A vote on the appeal scheduled for last week was delayed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
If approved by the Knesset, the measure, sponsored by MKs Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), Yariv Levin (Likud), David Tzur (Hatnua) and others, would prevent leaders from being able to offer prisoner releases in exchange for political concessions in talks with Palestinians, although it would only apply to a minority of inmates.
The release of convicted murderers became one of the most divisive issues within Netanyahu’s ruling coalition over the past year after he agreed to release over 100 prisoners at the outset of the most recent round of peace talks with the Palestinians.
Nearly 80 prisoners were released over the nine months of negotiations with the Palestinians, including many who had murdered Israelis in attacks over 20 years ago. Numerous right-wing ministers and MKs threatened to quit their posts and withdraw their party from the government ahead of a slated fourth and final prisoner release, which Palestinians were demanding include Israeli-Arab terrorists.
Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett praised the approval, saying it would discourage terror by insuring that those jailed for “severe acts of murder” would stay in jail and not enjoy the possibility of release in future negotiations.
“If the State of Israel doesn’t back the simple morality that murderers need to die in jail, from this moment there won’t be any choice,” he said, adding that the approval of the bill was a “Zionist response” to the recently announced “Palestinian unity government of terror.”
This government, he added, would be “the government of the war on terror.”
Shaked, a major backer of the bill, said its final approval by the cabinet was “a major achievement” for the Jewish Home party, which vehemently opposed the series of prisoners’ releases the government approved as part of the last round of peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation originally approved the bill on May 11 in a decision that was promptly appealed by Peri.
“The proposal seeks to allow the court to completely tie the government’s hands” and compromises its authority with regard to political considerations, he argued.