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Justice minister moves ahead with bill setting term limits for prime minister

Legislation proposed by Gideon Sa’ar would only be applied for future PMs, meaning Israel’s longest-serving premier Netanyahu could run for office again

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar speaks at a press conference in Jerusalem, on July 6, 2021. (Amit Shabi/Pool)
Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar speaks at a press conference in Jerusalem, on July 6, 2021. (Amit Shabi/Pool)

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar on Tuesday released a legislative memo for a bill setting term limits for the position of prime minister that would limit a premier from serving for more than eight years in total.

“The commitment to limit the term is part of the New Hope platform and is also included in the basic guidelines of the government,” Sa’ar said in a statement announcing the advancement of the bill. “Ruling for too long brings with it a concentration of power and the risk of corruption, and therefore it is right to include in the Basic Law the principle of restriction.”

The bill will be brought for government approval in the winter session of parliament that begun on Monday, the statement said.

The legislative memo said that the proposed bill would not be applied retroactively, and therefore would not prevent Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu from again running for office.

Cumulatively, Netanyahu has previously been prime minister for 14 years, 12 of them consecutively since 2009. He is currently on trial in three corruption cases, though he denies any wrongdoing.

Responding to Tuesday’s announcement, Foreign Minister and Yesh Atid chair Yair Lapid said that the term limits bill was “an important law that will maintain governance free of corruption and allow for an active and healthy democracy.”

Setting term limits, and potentially curtailing Netanyahu’s political career, was a key element in negotiations to form the current coalition government, which is led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of the Yamina party. Sa’ar also serves as deputy premier.

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on August 2 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Sa’ar insists that legislation is not aimed personally at Netanyahu, but is also working on additional legislation banning anyone who is facing indictments from running for office.

In June, as final frantic negotiations were held for a coalition agreement that eventually unseated Netanyahu, Channel 12 news reported that the parties had agreed to advance a law preventing a two-term prime minister from running for a parliament seat for four years. Netanyahu’s Likud party reacted furiously to the report.

Such a law would only apply to Netanyahu, the only living prime minister who fits the description, and would keep him not just out of the prime minister’s seat, but prevent him from even being a lawmaker in the Knesset. That proposal was said to be backed by the Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu parties, as well as Sa’ar’s New Hope.

Bennett’s Yamina party issued a strong denial at the time saying that there was only agreement on capping a prime minister’s tenure at eight years or two terms.

Channel 12 news later claimed that Yamina had agreed to that law and backtracked following the outrage caused by the report. Following Yamina’s objections, the parties’ negotiating teams reportedly agreed not to advance the version that would prevent a longtime premier from running for parliament.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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