Washington D.C. elected a convicted felon as Mayor but at least they waited until he was out of jail. Not so on the West Bank. And these aren’t just minor crimes:
RAMALLAH, West Bank — Imagine 54 U.S. congressmen holding office from behind bars, and you get an idea of the problem facing the Palestinian parliament when it meets today for its first session since the January landslide victory of the radical, anti-Israel group Hamas.
About 10 percent of the 132 newly elected Palestinian legislators are inmates of Israel’s civilian and military jails. Some of the legislators are being held in administrative detention without charges; others are serving time after conviction in Israeli courts.
How, if at all, these prisoner-politicians can participate in government and join debates on proposed legislation is a serious question.
“They won’t get any special privileges just because they were elected,” said Israeli Prison Service spokesman Ofer Lefler. At best, he said, they might be able to pass information to the outside world through monthly family visits or visits with lawyers, which can occur more frequently.
“In our jails they haven’t got cellphones — I hope. And they haven’t got permission to call,” Lefler said. “They are prisoners. That’s the whole story.”
While Palestinian legislators confined to the Gaza Strip under Israeli travel restrictions are expected to participate via closed-circuit video link with their colleagues meeting in Ramallah, no such provision exists for the 13 legislators in Israeli custody. (One legislator is in a Palestinian jail as well as under international supervision.)
Ten of the 14 are members of Hamas, whose effective majority drops from 74 to 64 seats while they are incarcerated. Three are members of Fatah, including the head of the party’s electoral list, Marwan Barghouti. Barghouti is serving five consecutive life sentences for his role in five attacks that killed civilians. Still, he is often mentioned by Palestinian and Israeli analysts — a la Nelson Mandela — as a possible future Palestinian leader.
One inmate, Ahmed Sadaat, of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, is in a Palestinian jail in Jericho for his role in the 2002 assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi.
This should speak volumes about their agenda, their political mandate, for their terms in office.