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Israel: Court Upholds Government Decision to Release Convicted Palestinians

(Aug. 27, 2013) On August 11, 2013, the Israeli High Court of Justice rejected a petition by Almagor, Israel’s Association of Victims of Terrorism, and by members of victims’ families to void a governmental decision to release Palestinian prisoners convicted of terrorism offenses. The release was designed to be a goodwill gesture in the midst of renewed peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. (H.C.J. 5413/13, Almagor v. Government of Israel [in Hebrew] (decision rendered on Aug. 11, 2013).)

According to the High Court of Justice decision, the Israeli government has the authority to decide on these issues, based on the government’s general authority in the areas of foreign affairs and national security. (Id. ¶ 10.) Government decisions in these matters, the Court held, do not require any explicit authorization in primary legislation, nor do they require a full-quorum vote by the government. (Id. ¶ 6.)

The High Court rejected the petitioners’ claim that their rights under the Rights of Victims of an Offense Law, 5761-2001 had been violated because they had not been afforded the opportunity to express their objections in writing to the prisoners’ early release. In rejecting their claim, the Court reiterated the previously established principle that rights under this Law are not fully applicable to cases where clemency is not obtained through “a regular” criminal process, but rather through a political agreement. (Rights of Victims of an Offense Law, 5761-2001[in Hebrew] (as amended), SEFER HAHUKIM [SH] [Israel’s official gazette] No. 1782, p. 183, NEVO LEGAL DATABASE (by subscription); H.C.J. 5413/13, supra, ¶ 7.)

The High Court also rejected “the claim that the decision to release the prisoners by the method determined in the government decision was affected by an extreme lack of reasonableness or that it suffered from another defect that requires our [i.e., the Court’s] intervention.” (H.C.J. 5413/13, supra, ¶ 10.)