The Central Elections Committee on Tuesday narrowly voted down petitions by three right-wing parties and an NGO to disqualify the United Arab List-Ta'al Party from running in the elections because of anti-Israel statements allegedly made by UAL leader Sheikh Ibrahim Sarsur.
Meanwhile, the party's number two candidate, Ahmed Tibi, told the CEC top party candidates there were hopes to meet with Palestinian Prime Minister-elect Ismail Haniyeh next week in Gaza.
"We plan to get permission to meet [PA Chairman] Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] and Prime Minister-elect Haniyeh," he later elaborated to The Jerusalem Post. "Discussions will focus on the Israeli-Palestinian track and what is happening in the Palestinian territories in the interim between the Palestinian and Israeli elections."
Before the vote, the committee chairman, Supreme Court Justice Dorit Beinisch, hinted that the committee members should reject the petitions.
"The right to vote is the most basic right in a democratic regime," she said. "In order to take a decision to disqualify a list, one must base it on factual evidence and not just reports in the media. Some of what was said here was not nice for any one of us to hear, but the threshold for demanding disqualification and the level of proof required must be very high when dealing with such a big question."
In the event, the committee voted 18 to 16 against the petitions, which had been submitted by the Likud, the National Union-National Religious Party, the National Jewish Front and an NGO, the Zionist Line.
The petitioners demanded the disqualification of UALTa'al on the basis of statements Sarsur had allegedly made during a February 13 press conference in Nazareth.
According to the report, which originally appeared in the Internet newspaper, Ynet, Sarsur said, "From an ideological point of view, we believe the government of the land, at least of Islamic and Arab land, should be Islamic and led by the Caliphate."
The petitioners charged that Sarsur had called for the replacement of Israel by an Islamic government and that in doing so, he had violated Article 7A (1) of the Basic Law: Knesset, which prohibits a party from running if it negates "the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state."
Sarsur claimed he had been misquoted. He told the committee, "I declare that I am an Islamist who believes that the entire Islamic world should unite under one dome to achieve its aims, exactly like China, the US and India. That has nothing to do with Israel."
Sarsur also called on Hamas to change directions now that it was in power and no longer in the opposition. "Now that Hamas is the government, it should take into account that it must lead the Palestinian people to a safe haven by establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel," he said.
Meanwhile, Sarsur's lawyer, Adalah attorney Marwan Dallal, told the committee that according to Israeli law, a Knesset candidate could not be disqualified for expressing support for a terrorist organization, but only if he supports the armed struggle of a terrorist organization.
This principle had been established by retired Supreme Court deputy president Mishael Cheshin during the elections for the 16th Knesset, and by the Supreme Court, which recently ruled that in expressing support for a terrorist organization, MK Azmi Bishara (Balad) had not overstepped the boundaries of his parliamentary immunity.