‘Terrorists will die in prison’: Israeli parliament limits Palestinian prisoner releases

‘Terrorists will die in prison’: Israeli parliament limits Palestinian prisoner releases
Israeli MPs have passed a law limiting the release of Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis in political deals. It caused elation among some officials, with the economy minister writing on his Facebook page that now “terrorists will die in jail.”

The Knesset, Israel’s 120-member legislative body, voted 35-15 on Monday in favor of the new law which forbids releasing Palestinian prisoners convicted of murder in future political deals or prisoner swaps, a cabinet member told AFP. The practice has been employed to promote peace efforts.

The new law empowers judges to convict people for murder under “extraordinarily severe circumstances,” a special designation which would prevent the government from freeing prisoners during political negotiations.

Current prisoners, however, are excluded from the act. It also contains a loophole enabling Israeli presidents to pardon future inmates of their own volition, according to Reuters.

Right-wingers have long since opposed the Israeli policy of releasing prisoners as part of “confidence-building measures.”

Relatives and friends of Palestinians jailed in Israeli prisons hold placards as they take part in a protest calling for the prisoners release outside Ayalon prison, in the city of Ramle, near Tel Aviv May 23, 2014. (Reuters/Ammar Awad)

Israel freed 78 Palestinian prisoners during failed US-brokered negotiations between June 2013 and April 2014, many of whom had been convicted of murdering Israeli civilians.

In 2011 Israel released over 1,000 Palestinian inmates in exchange for the freedom of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas for five years.

"The mass release of terrorists through diplomatic deals makes a mockery of the Israeli public as does shortening the prison terms of criminal murderers," said Ayelet Shaked, of the hardline Jewish Home party who initiated the bill.

"The Terrorist law just passed! From now on, terrorists will die in prison," Economy Minister and chairman of the Jewish Home Party, Naftali Bennett, wrote in a Facebook post.

The law has come under fire from Palestinian rights advocates. Qadoura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners' Club, a group representing Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli prisons, referred to the law as "racist."

A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot to hurl a stone at Israeli troops during clashes following a protest calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, in the West Bank city of Hebron May 2, 2014. (Reuters/ Mussa Qawasma)

Fares said that Israel is bound to renege on the law when politically convenient. "Israel will find themselves one day compelled to change the law if it is important for political reasons," he said.

Left-leaning politicians claim the new legislation could thwart future peace talks. Zehava Galon, leader of Meretz, a left-wing minority party, accused the hardliners of deliberately trying to stonewall any possibility of peace with the Palestinians.

Galon also criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of "capitulating to the extreme right and supporting a demagogic law."