Israel ex-minister says coalition scuppered his death penalty bill

Avigdor Lieberman speaks during a news conference at Israel's parliament on November 14, 2018 when he resigned as defence minister (AFP Photo/Menahem KAHANA) (AFP/File)

Jerusalem (AFP) - Resigned defence minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday accused his former partners in Israel's coalition government of scuppering a bill that would have made it easier to sentence Palestinian attackers to death.

A law to sentence "terrorists" to death was one of Lieberman's election promises in 2015, and government support for it was a condition for Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu joining Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition and becoming defence minister.

A bill in that vein, penned by Yisrael Beitenu members, passed a preliminary vote by the full parliament in January, before arriving at the Knesset's law committee for discussion and votes ahead of final approval in the plenum.

On Wednesday, however, Lieberman quit Netanyahu's coalition over Israel's latest truce with Hamas, which he called a "capitulation to terror," leaving the coalition with an unstable one-seat majority and resentment toward Yisrael Beitenu.

After the bill was debated but not voted on in a Tuesday discussion at the law committee, Lieberman said he was "shocked" to hear that committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky received "orders from above" to prevent it from advancing.

Yisrael Beitenu considered such a decision a "blatant breach" of the coalition's committment to its electorate and the bereaved families, Lieberman said in a statement.

Slomiansky himself implied during the discussion that coalition chairman Dudi Amsalem had told him to "wait in the meanwhile" with the bill until the issue was discussed with Yisrael Beitenu, but denied it had been killed.

"I haven't erased the bill, you can see we're having a discussion here," Slomiansky told lawmakers from Yisrael Beitenu at the committee, before ending the meeting without a vote or setting a date for the next session.

As the law stands now, a panel of three military judges must unanimously approve any death penalty in military courts.

The new bill would change the requirement to a majority instead of unanimity.

Israel has not carried out any executions since 1962, when Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann was hanged.

Israel abolished the use of capital punishment for murder in civil courts in 1954, though it can still in theory be applied for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, treason and crimes against the Jewish people.