Sa’ar orders work to begin on bill setting prime minister term limits

Proposed legislation would only be applied for future PMs, New Hope party says, meaning Israel’s longest-serving premier Netanyahu could again run for office

Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar speaks at a conference in southern Israel on July 22, 2021. (Flash90)
Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar speaks at a conference in southern Israel on July 22, 2021. (Flash90)

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar instructed officials to begin preparing a memo for legislating term limits for the prime minister’s position, his New Hope party said in a statement Monday.

Under the planned legislation, there would be a cap on serving no more than eight years in total as prime minister, the statement said.

It noted 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 denies any wrongdoing.

“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 the statement. “Too long a rule 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 will begin in October, the statement said.

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

However, spokesperson for Sa’ar told the Times of Israel the legislation is not aimed personally at Netanyahu and that the minister had never backed such a move but noted that Sa’ar is also working on additional legislation banning anyone who is facing indictments from running for office.

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

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 Beyntenu parties, as well as Sa’ar’s New Hope.

Bennet’s Yamina party issued a strong denial at the time saying 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.

The Haaretz daily said that following Yamina’s objections, the parties’ negotiating teams had agreed not to advance the version that would prevent a longtime premier from running for parliament.

The report said the law had been proposed by New Hope — which views term limits as insufficient — and was aimed at preventing Netanyahu from working to topple the coalition since it would effectively oust him from the Knesset in the following election.

One of the key questions discussed, according to Haaretz, was when the law would take effect and whether it would apply retroactively to Netanyahu’s terms. That would affect the legal feasibility of the law, which if passed is virtually certain to come up for debate in the High Court of Justice.

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