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Ministers set to okay term limits for PM; Sa’ar also seeks ban on indicted MKs

Likud MK says party could support the term-limit bill provided it isn’t retroactive and thus can’t apply to Netanyahu

Raoul Wootliff is the producer and occasional host of the Times of Israel Daily Briefing podcast.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) speaks with Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar in the Knesset on June 16, 2021. (Menahem Kahana / AFP)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) speaks with Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar in the Knesset on June 16, 2021. (Menahem Kahana / AFP)

Ahead of a ministerial vote on his bill setting term limits for the premiership, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said Sunday morning that he was working to persuade Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to support legislation banning anyone under serious indictment from running for political office.

“The proposal should go into the lawbook. It would strengthen democratic rule in Israel,” Sa’ar said to Army Radio about the law, which would limit a premier from serving for more than eight years. It was set to be voted on by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday.

The proposed amendment to Israel’s semi-constitutional Basic Laws would force a prime minister to step down after eight years in power, or, alternately, after serving two terms that followed two elections.

Bennett has previously signaled he would oppose such a law and has not publicly commented on the proposal yet. But reports last week suggested he would back the bill since it does not apply retroactively and would therefore 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.

Setting term limits with the aim of curtailing Netanyahu’s political career was a key element in negotiations to form the current coalition government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party, addresses supporters at the party campaign headquarters in Jerusalem early on March 24, 2021, after the end of voting in the fourth national election in two years. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, number two in Bennett’s Yamina party, said Sunday that despite reservations, there was cross-party agreement within the coalition to support the term-limit bill.

“This is a bill that is included in the coalition agreement, agreed upon by all the coalition factions, and also the right thing to do,” she told Army Radio following Sa’ar’s interview.

“However,” she added, “the attorney general [as the issuer of indictments] should not be allowed to decide who will be prime minister and who will not — this is a matter of principle, not related to Netanyahu.”

Conceding that the bill would not impact Netanyahu, Sa’ar on Sunday said further legislation was needed to keep the criminally accused from political office.

“I need to convince my friends, and especially Prime Minister Bennett, that preventing the tenure of a criminal defendant is important,” Sa’ar added, referring to separate legislation he is preparing that would block a premiership run from anyone indicted for a crime that comes with a minimum three-year sentence and moral turpitude.

Such a law would apply to Netanyahu and would keep him out of the prime minister’s seat. That proposal was said to be backed by the Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu parties, along with Sa’ar’s New Hope party.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Gideon Sa’ar at a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset, on November 21, 2005. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Speaking to Army Radio, Likud MK David Bitan said that the Likud party opposed such legislation on principle, but could support the term-limit bill.

“In previous talks with Netanyahu, he had no problem with the law, provided it did not apply retroactively,” Bitan said.

The proposed law, if approved, would take effect after the next elections when a new Knesset is sworn in.

A separate bill limiting the terms of mayors would also be advanced later, Sa’ar tweeted on Thursday. It too would limit them to two terms, but allow a third term if they receive more than 50% of the votes.

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