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Israel top court allows Palestinian MP Yazbak to run in March elections

Israel court overturns decision by country's elections body to disqualify candidacy of Palestinian member of parliament
Israeli supreme court says of Heba Yazbak: 'There was no 'critical mass' of formal evidence to justify disqualifying her' (Twitter)

Israel's supreme court on Sunday overturned a decision by the country's elections body to disqualify a Palestinian member of parliament from running in March elections after accusations she supported "terrorism".

The high court's decision passed with a majority of five judges voting in favour to four against, Haaretz reported.

The Central Elections Committee (CEC) in January invalidated the candidacy of Heba Yazbak, a member of the Joint List group and Balad political party who has been in Israel’s Knesset since last April's elections, AFP said.

Right-wing parties Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and Jewish Power had called for the CEC to ban Yazbak's candidacy, claiming that she wrote a Facebook post in 2016 eulogising Lebanese Hezbollah member Samir al-Kuntar as a "martyr fighter" and arguing that she supported "terrorism".

Yazbak told the committee that she expressed support for integrating former Palestinian prisoners into society and did not support terrorism, Haaretz reported.

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Still, the CEC issued a decision last month to ban Yazbak in a move that was rejected by leaders of the Palestinian community in Israel.

Israel court postpones ruling on disqualification of Palestinian MP
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“These claims are unacceptable… what Heba Yazbak said was in harmony with the legitimate Palestinian struggle against occupation and in harmony with international laws,” Jamal Zahalka, a former Knesset member and leader of the Balad party until 2019, told Middle East Eye at the time.

Zahalka said that Palestinian Knesset members’ position on the extrajudicial assassinations of Palestinian or Arab leaders was clear.

“Kuntar was killed by Israel, as were Bassel al-Araj and Dalal Mughrabi, whose names were brought during today’s trial as an attempt to pin down Israeli parties' claims against Yazbak,” Zahalka said at the time.

Kuntar fought in the ranks of the Palestine Liberation Front and was arrested by Israel in 1979. Then aged 16, he was convicted of killing two Israeli family members and a policeman. 

Kuntar spent 29 years in prison before being released in 2008. He was assassinated in Damascus in 2015 after he joined the Hezbollah movement.

Araj and Mughrabi were two prominent Palestinian resistance figures who were killed in 2017 and 1978 respectively.

On Sunday, the supreme court said: "There was no 'critical mass' of formal evidence to justify disqualifying her."

After the decision, Yazbak said: "We will continue to work towards ending the occupation and lifting the siege [on Gaza], for peace, and for equal and just citizenship," as quoted by Haaretz.

Elections approach

The Likud party wrote on Twitter: "Those who want Heba in the opposition and not in government must vote only for Likud.”

Yazbak told local media in January that Palestinian political leaders inside Israel were running for election amid a “racist atmosphere and incitement against Arab citizens and against the Joint List”.

She also wrote an opinion piece for Haaretz outlining her position after her disqualification.

The 2 March polls are Israel's third in less than a year, after national polls in April and September failed to yield a governing coalition.

Caretaker premier Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party was deadlocked with centrist Benny Gantz's Blue and White party in both the 2019 elections.

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