(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
MK Azmi Bishara (Balad) requested political asylum in Qatar two weeks ago, the Nazareth-based daily Kul-Alarab reported on its Web site on Tuesday. There was also a report Tuesday night that Bishara had traveled to Europe, perhaps to Spain.
Recent reports stated that Bishara was planning to resign following "serious allegations" against him, the nature of which has not yet come to light.
Following the reports, MK Zevulun Orlev (NU-NRP) submitted a bill to the Knesset on Tuesday stipulating that MKs traveling to enemy countries should be barred from running in the elections.
Orlev said that "whoever hesitates in the face of the growing phenomenon" of Arab MKs openly attacking the sovereignty of Israel by traveling to enemy countries and meeting with hardline Palestinian leaders "will find himself soon enough facing a violent Arab mutiny that will sweep the entire Arab population."
MK Zvi Hendel, Orlev's colleague in NU-NRP, said "I have no doubt that the Arab leadership in Israel, some of whose members are MKs, cooperates with our enemies in a much more extreme way than the Israeli Arab public, that mostly wishes to live a normal life as citizens of the state and have an honorable profession."
Hendel said his finger was pointing not at the Arab MKs but at the Jewish leaders of the state: "How much longer can we blindfold ourselves saying that in a democracy anything is allowed?"
MK Jamal Zahalka, Bishara's colleague and No. 2 in Balad, denied the reports regarding Bishara.
In an interview on Tuesday, Zahalka told Israel Radio that allegations that Bishara escaped the country were unfounded. He said Bishara's stay in Jordan was not unusual and that Bishara travels with his family to Jordan every year for Easter.
Late Monday night, Bishara's political future remained unknown after Arab-language newspapers reports of his intention to resign from the Knesset on Tuesday and never return to Israel.
Bishara has been one of the fiercest critics of Israeli policies since joining the Knesset in 1996. He raised uproar last summer when he visited Lebanon and Syria to encourage Israel's adversaries during the Second Lebanon War.
On Sunday the Nazareth-based A-Sinara newspaper reported that Bishara was in Jordan and would submit his resignation from the legislature through an emissary. Bishara left Israel two weeks ago to attend meetings and to promote his book and he has remained abroad, except for a brief return to Israel last week to attend a wedding, according to the paper.
Channel 10 reported that Bishara had already submitted a letter of resignation from the Knesset. Balad MKs vehemently denied these reports and the Balad Party's Web site called them "inaccurate and incorrect." They said he would remain in the Knesset and return to Israel soon.
But sources close to Bishara said he felt he had done all he could as a lawmaker and that he had considered quitting the parliament and leaving the country permanently during the war last summer. They said he might hold a press conference in Amman to announce his plans for his political future.
Bishara's opponents in the Knesset said they believed the reports and they doubted he would return to Israel. They suggested there were serious legal issues preventing Bishara from returning.
Likud MK Yisrael Katz shepherded last year's passage of a law that would prevent candidates who back terrorist groups and Israel's enemies from running for Knesset. He suggested that Bishara decided to leave the country because the law would prevent him from running in the next election.
"What is happening now with Bishara proves that neither he nor his party belongs in the Knesset," Katz said. "Bishara is an ally of Israel's enemies and Balad does not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. I intend to do everything possible to make sure Balad will not be allowed in the next Knesset."
Bishara made news in the parliament recently in both positive and negative circumstances. Advocates of the rights of the disabled praised Bishara for sponsoring a law that would force the government to give benefits to sufferers of polio.
On a more negative note, he was scolded by the Knesset Ethics Committee for telling Likud MK Gilad Erdan to "go f---" himself.
But Bishara made the most headlines for his repeated visits to Syria and Lebanon, including last summer's visit with the other two Balad MKs, Jamal Zahalka and Wasal Taha. The legislators coordinated their visit with the speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri, who is close to Hizbullah.
Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz opened an investigation against the three for visiting Syria without requesting permission. Police said at the time that the probe would be carried out by the International Serious Crimes Unit.
MKs are prohibited from traveling to enemy countries under a 2001 law that carries sanctions of up to four years in jail. That legislation was passed after Bishara visited Syria, but escaped legal action after it was determined that there was no law prohibiting his trip.
If he resigns, Bishara will be replaced in the Knesset by the next name on the Balad list, Saeed Nafa, a resident of the Druse village of Beit Jann in the Upper Galilee.