MK Basel Ghattas.
(photo credit: KOKO/POOL ISRAEL HAYOM)
Balad MK Basel Ghattas signed a plea bargain agreement late on Thursday in which he confessed to smuggling cellphones to security prisoners in Ketziot Prison in the Negev and agreed to serve two years in jail and resign his Knesset seat, the Justice Ministry announced.
The ministry statement said the state prosecution would also seek a fine, along with a finding of moral turpitude, which would block Ghattas from public service for seven years after completing his sentence. The statement implied that Ghattas will be indicted and the plea deal will be filed next week.
Ghattas confirmed late Thursday night that he had signed he deal.
The case has ratcheted up tension between the Balad Party and authorities over whether Ghattas perpetrated a serious security offense or is being hunted by law enforcement as part of a crackdown on loud politicians among the country’s Israeli-Arab minority.
A related indictment against Asad Daka, Ghattas’s handler, said that Daka asked Ghattas to help smuggle items into the prison, relying on the MK’s parliamentary immunity from being searched when visiting prisoners.
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Asad Daka met with Ghattas on December 18 at a gas station on Route 6 and gave the items to him to smuggle into his brother Walid Daka and another security prisoner, Basil Bizra, knowing that would endanger lives and national security.
Ghattas visited Walid Daka, delivering various documents for him to smuggle within the prison. He then met with Bizra and gave him cellphones and SIM cards to smuggle.
Both Walid Daka and Bizra were caught after their meetings with Ghattas during a standard search, which led to the allegations against Ghattas.
Bizra is serving a 15-year sentence for terror-related activities.
Police arrested Asad Daka, who owns a cafe in Baka-al-Gharbiya, in late December.
In response to the revelation of the plea bargain, MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu) said the amount of prison time given for such an acts was a disgrace. “This light punishment harms the deterrence effect and will encourage shameful acts like these in future,” he said.
“Ghattas will be released from prison after only two years and will be received as a hero and a freedom fighter by those who want to see the demise of the State of Israel. This is not the message we want to deliver to traitors and spies that are acting to destroy us.”
Deputy Knesset Speaker Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union) said the deal saved that Knesset from “the shameful act of impeachment.”
“It was proved today that there is no room for impeachment in the Israeli democracy,” he said. “I am happy that this is how things turned out, and not like the rightwing MKs obsessively insisting to impeach Ghattas from the Knesset.”
The Knesset House Committee started the impeachment process on Tuesday after Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin gathered 71 lawmakers to support the move, as required by law. With the requirement of the plea bargain that Ghattas resign, that process has ended.