Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared earlier this week that terrorist Omar al-Abed, who murdered three members of the Salomon family, should be sentenced to death, echoing calls repeatedly made in the past by Defense Ministry Avigdor Lieberman.
Netanyahu paid his respects to al-Abed's victims—Yosef Salomon, 70, and his children Haya, 46, and Elad, 35—on Thursday during a visit to the family home in the West Bank settlement of Halamish.
"It's time we start giving death sentences to terrorists," the prime minister told the mourning family. "It's enshrined in law, it requires a unanimous decision by the judges, but they also want to know the government's position. And my position as the prime minister, in this instance of such a heinous murderer—he needs to be executed. We need to wipe the smile off his face."
The Security Provisions Order in the West Bank allows to hand down the death sentence to a terrorist convicted of murder, but sparingly. The decision must be unanimous, a trial must be conducted even if the terrorist pleads guilty to the charges, and the death penalty must be appealed even if the terrorist does not choose to appeal it.
Change in policy required
For such a sentence to be handed out, however, Netanyahu and Lieberman need to change the government's policy and instruct the military prosecution to ask the military courts for such a punishment.
The defense establishment has opposed implementing the law, because of the concern it would lead to abductions of Israeli soldiers and civilians as bargaining chips to release terrorists on death row.
Netanyahu has also been against changing the government policy on capital punishment. Two years ago, Netanyahu shelved a bill on capital punishment to terrorists, which was proposed by then-MK Sharon Gal (Yisrael Beytenu). The prime minister instructed the seven Likud ministers in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation to vote against the bill and ordered the formation of a team headed by Minister Yariv Levin to examine the issue.
Last year, Lieberman demanded the move as his condition to joining the government, but eventually relinquished the demand.
Earlier this week, when the Cabinet discussed the murder of the Salomon family, Minister Yisrael Katz demanded the death penalty for the terrorist and the expulsion of Sheikh Raed Salah, the leader of the outlawed northern branch of the Islamic Movement, to Syria or to Gaza. The ministers decided to discuss the issue again after the Temple Mount crisis is resolved.
But unlike Lieberman, and Bayit Yehudi Ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, Netanyahu did not express support for capital punishment during the Cabinet discussion—only at the Salomon family home later in the week.
Lieberman, as the defense minister, and Netanyahu, as the prime minister, are the only two who can lead such a change in policy.
Such a move is not expected to face any bureaucratic or procedural delays. The Cabinet will likely seek the positions of the Shin Bet, the IDF, the Justice Ministry and the military judicial system on the matter, but eventually the decision will be down to the prime minister, who enjoys the support of his defense minister and right-wing Cabinet.
Terrorist asks for death sentenceOnly several military judges in IDF history sentenced terrorists to death as an act of deterrence, but the verdicts were eventually not carried out over a minority opinion or an appeal that overruled it.
In July 1997, a military judge "undermined" the policy of the government (which was also led by Netanyahu) and sentenced Hamas arch-terrorist Hassan Salameh to death—but his was the minority opinion. Salameh was convicted of the murder of 46 Israelis.
Salameh himself, who showed no remorse for his actions, asked the judges to sentence him to death.
The judges noted this was an "all-time record" of people killed in a terror attack by one terrorist, and the minority opinion judge, Col. (res.) Ilan Katz wrote, "The defendant said he intended to kill as many Jews as possible. He was aware of the results of the first two attacks and yet did not cease and carried out the third attack regardless. With that, he has lost his humanity and made himself an exception to the rule. He carried out these attacks while there is an ongoing peace process in our region in an effort to foil it."
Katz went on to note that "Even the judicial sources in Judaism, from the Sanhedrin to the Rambam, supported handing down the death sentence sparingly."
The judge further criticized "the way in which courts determine they are not handing down the death sentence because it was not asked for by the prosecution is not appropriate and undermines the duty of the courts to exercise independent judgment."