Knesset passes law aimed to prevent Palestinian prisoner deals

Legislation bars commutation of certain killers’ sentences, tying the state’s hands in using them as political bargaining chips

Illustrative photo of a Palestinian prisoner (Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a Palestinian prisoner (Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

The Knesset on Monday gave final approval to a contentious law to prevent Palestinian prisoner releases for those serving life sentences, effectively removing the option to use prisoners as a bargaining chip with the Palestinians.

Thirty-five Knesset members voted in favor of the bill, with 15 MKs opposing.

The measure, sponsored by MKs Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) and David Tzur (Hatnua), dictates that courts will henceforth be allowed to convict murderers under “aggravating circumstances,” in which case discussion of sentence commutation shall not occur before 15 years of imprisonment, and at any rate sentences will not be reduced to under 40 years.

The law will prevent leaders from being able to offer prisoner releases in exchange for political concessions in talks with Palestinians.

It only applies to prisoners convicted from this point onwards, however, and not to those already incarcerated for their crimes.

“In the state of Israel today the judges’ rulings are not worth the paper they’re written on,” Shaked said upon the bill’s preliminary approval in the plenum earlier this year. “In cases of particularly heinous murders, the government should respect the decisions handed down by judges in the state of Israel.”

The release of Palestinian security prisoners, most of them convicted murderers, became one of the most divisive issues within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition over the past year after he agreed to release over 100 such prisoners at the outset of the most recent round of peace talks with the Palestinians. The talks collapsed in the spring, in part because of a dispute over the fourth and final batch of prisoner releases, with the Palestinians demanding the release of Israeli Arab inmates, and Netanyahu saying he had never agreed to do so.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation originally approved the bill on May 11 in a decision that was promptly appealed by Yesh Atid’s Science Minister Yaakov 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. Peri’s appeal was ultimately rejected.

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