Zionist Union urges Ghattas to resign or be voted out of Knesset
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Zionist Union urges Ghattas to resign or be voted out of Knesset

Opposition party’s support is required to oust Arab lawmaker accused of smuggling cellphones to jailed Palestinian terrorists

Former Joint Arab List member Basel Ghattas arrives for a court hearing at the Lod Magistrate's Court, January 8, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)
Former Joint Arab List member Basel Ghattas arrives for a court hearing at the Lod Magistrate's Court, January 8, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

The opposition Zionist Union faction urged the Joint (Arab) list in a letter Monday to expel its member MK Basel Ghattas, threatening to lend its support to a measure that would see him booted by a plenum vote.

To complete the expulsion process, 90 out of 120 MKs must vote in favor of the ousting, requiring backing from the Zionist Union.

In the letter, Zionist Union said it “does not support the principle of the MK expulsion law, since MKs don’t need to kick out other MKs on their own — but the Joint List needs to work to fire Ghattas from the Knesset in light of the grave suspicions against him — or the Zionist Union will allow its members to vote as they please.”

The party, which has consistently opposed the expulsion law in principle, said in its letter that if it had to resort to it in order to oust Ghattas, it would be the Joint List’s fault.

The Joint List, which is also in the opposition, rejected the letter and called on lawmakers to oppose the use of the “anti-democratic” expulsion law, “which damages the foundations of parliamentarism.”

Ghattas is suspected of passing phones and other contraband to two Palestinians serving time in Israeli prison, one for murder and one for other terror offenses. He was recently released from house arrest but is expected to be charged.

Yesh Adit party chairman, Yair Lapid, leads a party faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, January 9, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yesh Adit party chairman, Yair Lapid, leads a party faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, January 9, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some 70 lawmakers are set to trigger the new suspension law to expel Ghattas.

The coalition-spearheaded measure will advance after the opposition Yesh Atid party threw its weight behind the move, Channel 2 reported on Sunday night. Lapid was set to sign on to the complaint on Monday, the report said.

Ghattas, of the Joint List’s Balad faction, is under a criminal investigation after he was caught on prison surveillance video passing envelopes to the prisoners last month. He was released to house arrest earlier this month, five days after he was arrested.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has authorized a draft indictment against Ghattas, which has yet to be lodged, and which includes charges of using property to abet terror, fraud, breach of trust, and aggravated fraud.

Coalition lawmakers, led by Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, have sought to remove Ghattas from office with the law passed in July, under which 70 Knesset members — 10 of whom must be from the opposition — may file a complaint with the Knesset speaker against any lawmaker who supports armed struggle against Israel or incites to racial hatred, launching the impeachment process.

Security camera footage showing MK Basel Ghattas, right, handing an envelope to an inmate in Israeli prison. (screen capture: Channel 10)
Security camera footage showing MK Basel Ghattas, right, handing an envelope to an inmate in Israeli prison. (screen capture: Channel 10)

The Knesset House Committee can then debate the complaint before clearing it with a three-quarter majority in the committee. The motion to dismiss the lawmaker would then be sent to the plenum, where, if 90 of the 120 Knesset members vote in favor, the MK would be ousted. The deposed lawmaker could then appeal the decision with the High Court of Justice.

In a statement responding to the Zionist Union letter, the Joint List said that “members of the opposition must understand that their flipflopping damages them and helps [Prime Minister] Netanyahu, who is leading a demagogic, opportunistic and racist campaign against Arab MKs.”

The party stressed that the move could “further increase the lack of faith of the Arab public in participation in the Knesset and in the elections.”

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