In an unprecedented development, an Arab member of Israel’s Knesset Parliament, Azmi Bishara, gave a speech in Jordan in which he warned Hamas against making any substantial concessions to win the international community’s support.
Bishara repeated his comments in an interview with the Jordanian newspaper al-Ra’i.
Bishara said the formation of a PA unity government and the revived Arab peace initiative may advance the diplomatic process but would “not lead to anything … .”The Arabs have reached the point where they are making concessions out of the belief that the peace process still exists, despite the fact that there is no evidence of this on the ground,” he said.
Bishara’s speech was accompanied by news reports that this Arab Knesset member was going to defect to an unnamed neighboring Arab Country.
Last summer, Bishara traveled to Syria and to Lebanon and expressed full support for Hezbollah, while Hezbollah rained 4000 missiles on Northern Israel, killing 52 civilians, 26 of whom were Israeli Arabs.
Israeli Arabs, who hold 13 out of the 120 seats in Israel’s parliament, now comprise 18 percent of Israel’s population.
Bishara is scheduled to return to Israel from Jordan in accordance with the schedule he has set for himself, said members of the National Democratic Assembly , also known as Balad – of which Bishara is chairman – yesterday.
The party leadership convened in Nazareth for a special meeting and formally stated that the reports claiming that Bishara intends to stay out of Israel and resign from parliament are untrue.
Bishara’s party was founded in 1995 by activists of Bnei Hakfar (Sons of the Village), the Progressive List and the Jewish-Arab movement Brit Shivyon (Equality Assembly). In 1996, Bishara was elected as a Knesset member as part of a joint ticket with Hadash, the Israel Communist Party.
Three years later, he ran with Member of Knesset (MK) Ahmed Tibi on one ticket. In 2003, the party got three Knesset seats.
In June 2000, shortly after the IDF’s pullout from Lebanon, Bishara said at a party gathering in Umm al-Fahm: “Hezbollah won, and for the first time since 1967, we have tasted victory. Hezbollah is entitled to take pride in its achievement in humiliating Israel.”
A year later, he made a similar statement at a memorial for President Hafez Assad in Damascus. Following these speeches, Bishara’s parliamentary immunity was removed, and he was indicted for supporting a terror organization.
Bishara petitioned the Israel High Court of Justice against his indictment, arguing that he had “expressed his opinion on political issues par excellence,” as part of his duties as a Knesset member. The court accepted his petition in 2006 and ruled that Bishara’s support for Hezbollah in those speeches was expressed as part of his parliamentary duties.
Regardless of how unpleasant Bishara’s statements are, “we must protect MKs’ ability to fulfill their duty without fear,” the justices said.
In the 2006 elections, Balad received over 72,000 votes, making it the third largest Israeli Arab party. Within Israeli Arab society, Balad is seen as representing an Arab Nationalist line strongly opposed to Israel and the U.S.
In a published article, Balad’s MK Zahalka wrote “Balad’s foundation blocked the Israelization Arabs were facing as a result of the Oslo [peace] process and presented the Palestinian Arab option as the only option Arab citizens could conscientiously belong to … .”
In the 2003 elections, a bid was made to disqualify Balad from running for the Knesset, but the High Court of Justice blocked the move.
Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, enforced military rule over the Israeli Arab population, which lasted until 1966, for fear that Israel’s Arab minority would turn against the state of Israel and join forces with Israel’s Arab neighbors who are at war with Israel, as Bishara may have done.
David Bedein can be reached at Media@actcom.co.il. His Web site is www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com.
©The Bulletin 2007