He lives in a tepee in the Negev and works as an alternative medicine healer, but what may make Green Leaf candidate Shlomi Sendak really stand out in the next Knesset is his promise to negotiate with Hamas.
"I think we should negotiate with no preconditions," Sendak told The Jerusalem Post
Sunday. "I would talk [with Hamas] immediately, tomorrow morning," and added, "speaking with Hamas does not mean I would agree with Hamas."
For the first time, some polls have shown that the Green Leaf Party may pass the threshold and receive three seats in the next Knesset. The ultra-liberal party, whose platform includes the legalization of gambling and prostitution along with marijuana, has run on the ballot for two past national elections. In 2003, they were 7,000 votes short of the threshold for receiving a seat in the Knesset.
Sendak is the No. 2 candidate on the list after Green Leaf chairman Boaz Wachtal. The Knesset, he said, is a place he has "very much avoided in the past.
"I think it is clear that I would stand out there," said Sendak, who is the only candidate to have publicly advocated negotiations with Hamas without preconditions. "But I would take my position seriously and there is much I would like to accomplish."
Sendak began advocating cannabis legalization after a visit to Amsterdam in 1994. His life in the Negev has brought him particularly close to Beduin communities there, and encouraged him to become "an advocate for Beduin and Arab Israelis.
"By speaking with Arab Israelis we are speaking to Hamas. By speaking to Hamas we are speaking to Iran," said Sendak. "I am willing to negotiate with Hamas, with the president of Iran, with the devil himself if it would bring us peace."
Wachtal, however did not appear to share Sendak's view. "We can have a dialog with them [Hamas] to influence their positions," said Wachtal. "If we want to enter negotiations on a final status, we would have preconditions."
Parties across the political spectrum have refused to negotiate with Hamas unless the organization renounces violence, recognizes Israel, and promises to adhere to past agreements with Israel made by the PA.
"We believe in a two-state solution and a return to '67 borders," said Wachtal.
The Green Leaf Party, which Wachtal registered in 1999, has become increasingly popular among students and youths due to its liberal platform.
Although Green Leaf advocates environmental protection and minority rights, its strongest base of support, and cause for notoriety, continues to come from its promises to legalize cannabis.
During disengagement, Green Leaf made headlines by recommending that settlers "roll a joint and relax." And last month, two of the party's candidates were arrested after protesting their exclusion from mock elections at Blich High School.
"We are constantly being discriminated against and misunderstood," said a party spokeswoman.
"We need to be very clear: We are not advocating cannabis, we are advocating its legalization," said Wachtal, but admitted that criticism and media exposure have only helped Green Leaf.
The party represents an alternative culture of people who care about the environment, civil rights and personal freedom, he said. Even so, he acknowledged that drugs have been the great unifier for his motley crew of candidates for parliament, some of whom had their official portraits taken with sunglasses and a glass of beer in hand.
"The common denominator is the love of cannabis," he said.
Yet the 47-year-old Wachtal is hardly your typical hippie. Educated in the US, he has become a respected lecturer on the Middle East water crisis. In the 1980s, he served as the assistant to the military attache at the Israeli embassy in Washington, and was part of a team of Israeli representatives to former president Ronald Reagan's space-based anti-missile shield program.
AP contributed to this report.