BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The House Committee of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, held its first discussion on Tuesday on the topic of unseating MK Basel Ghattas, as requested by 71 lawmakers, Israeli daily Haaretz reported
Ghattas, a member of the Joint List political bloc which represents parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Knesset, was indicted in January
on charges of smuggling cellphones to Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli custody.
Haaretz reported at the time
that Ghattas was charged with suspicions of “illegally smuggling phones into a prison, prohibited use of property for terrorist purposes,” and “deceit and breach of trust by a public servant and aggravated fraud.”
Tuesday’s discussion was the first of its kind dealing with the ousting of a sitting lawmaker since Israel passed a highly contentious law last summer allowing the Knesset to oust a lawmaker for “incitement to racism” and “support of armed struggle against the state of Israel.”
Members of the Joint List, as well as left-wing Israeli politicians, criticized the law, saying it targets Palestinians lawmakers deemed to be “inciting” against Israel’s interests.
The bill was first introduced after Palestinian MKs paid visits to the families of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces after they carried out attacks, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying in March the law would be used to suspend MKs who "stand behind terror."
The legislation regained traction after Balad MK Hanin Zoabi enraged lawmakers by calling Israeli soldiers who participated in a 2010 deadly raid of the Turkish aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip “murderers,” as she was forcibly removed from the plenum for her comments.
According to Haaretz, the committee postponed voting to unseat Ghattas until March 21. If the committee votes in favor of unseating the MK, a vote will be brought before the entire Knesset, where a majority of 90 MKs in favor is required to have Ghattas removed.
Israel’s Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri presented a potential plea bargain before the committee, in which Ghattas would resign from the Knesset and be “charged with crimes including breaking the anti-terror law,” Haaretz said.
Haaretz added that Nizri noted a “significant prison sentence” and a fine that would come after Ghattas’ confession, and that Ghattas’ attorneys would have until Thursday to sign the plea deal. If they do, Ghattas will have to resign when he is indicted, which Haaretz said is likely to happen on Sunday.
Haaretz reported that Ghattas was seen on video in December passing envelopes to Palestinian inmates -- one of whom was Walid Daka, who is serving a life sentence for his involvement as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in the 1984 kidnapping and killing of Israeli army soldier Moshe Tamam -- during a visit to Ktziot prison.
According to prisoners' rights group Addameer, 6,500 Palestinians were imprisoned by Israel as of January. Any correspondence with Palestinian prisoners can be considered an act against the security of the state of Israel, making it dangerous for both Palestinian citizens of Israel and those holding Jerusalem permits to engage with Palestinians held by Israel.
Critics have said the arrest represents the latest event in a concerted crackdown on Joint List MKs in an attempt to squelch opposition to the Israeli government’s right-wing policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, commonly resting on allegations of “incitement” or supporting “terrorism."