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Ghattas signs plea deal, resigns from Knesset over smuggled phones case

March 19, 2017 6:20 P.M. (Updated: March 20, 2017 12:55 P.M.)
NEGEV (Ma’an) -- Arab Joint List member and Palestinian citizen of Israel Basel Ghattas officially submitted his resignation from the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, on Sunday, after signing a plea deal over charges of smuggling cell phones to Palestinian prisoners.

Ghattas submitted his resignation to Knesset speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein after signing the deal over charges of smuggling cellphones to Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli custody. According to Israeli news outlet Ynet, Ghattas is expected to spend two years in prison over the charges.

Ghattas had served as a lawmaker in the Knesset for four years.

The Knesset reported in a statement that Jumaa Azbarga would replace Ghattas in the Knesset.

Azbarga, a Bedouin citizen of Israel, is a member of the Balad party and the Joint List -- the political bloc which represents parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Knesset -- like Ghattas.

The House Committee of the Knesset held its first discussion on Tuesday on the topic of unseating Ghattas, 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, have 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.

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 Ghattas’ case 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."
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