High Court rules Israel cannot hold terrorists’ bodies as bargaining chips

Prime Minister Netanyahu plans to develop solutions to force Hamas to return the bodies of Israeli soldiers and civilians held in Gaza.

By: Ilan Evyatar/TPS

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that he would convene the security cabinet Sunday to draft “legal, possible solutions” to pressure Hamas to return the bodies of Israeli soldiers and civilians held in Gaza, and called a High Court of Justice ruling requiring the Knesset to pass legislation on the matter “very problematic.”

“We must not give free gifts to Hamas,” Netanyahu said.

Earlier in the day, the Court ruled that “the State of Israel – as a state governed by the rule of law – cannot, in the absence of a specific statute, hold the bodies of terrorists for the purpose of negotiations,” the court wrote in response to a petition filed by the families of Palestinian terrorists whose remains are currently held by Israel.

“If the state wishes to do so, it must formulate legal arrangements dedicated to this specific issue and pass them as primary legislation that will meet the standards of Israeli and international law,” the court added.

The court gave the state six months to pass legislation on the matter and said that if it failed to do so it would have to return the bodies of nine Palestinian terrorists currently held by Israel, including the bodies of five Islamic Jihad operatives killed when the IDF blew up a cross-border tunnel from Gaza on October 30.

In contrast to the prime minister, MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said in a statement that the court ruling was correct and that the government must accept and implement the decision.

“This is a fundamental principle of Israel’s legal system,” said a spokeswoman for MK Shai. “For individuals, actions not specifically prohibited by law are assumed to be legal and permissible. For the government, it is precisely the opposite: Actions and policies not specifically permitted by law are assumed to be illegal.”

“So let the Knesset legislate the issue,” she said.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said in the wake of the ruling that he would expedite legislation that would enable Israel to hold the bodies of terrorists for the purposes of negotiations.

With additional reporting by Andrew Friedman