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Netanyahu considering plea bargain

What happened: Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu is contemplating a plea bargain agreement that would end his corruption allegations and could see him leave politics for several years.

  • According to several reports in Israel, the state prosecution and Netanyahu have been talking about the possibility of a plea deal for several weeks.
  • Netanyahu’s attorney reportedly proposed to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit that Netanyahu only admit to two counts of fraud and breach of trust (Cases 1000 and 4000) and not be charged with bribery in Case 4000.
  • He would resign from the Knesset immediately, be sentenced to community service — and most importantly, the matter of moral turpitude would be dropped.
  • The proposal also called to drop the charges against Netanyahu in Case 2000.
  • However, Mandelblit and the State Attorney Office are only prepared to accept a deal which includes Netanyahu admitting to moral turpitude, which would bar the former prime minister from politics for seven years.
  • Netanyahu’s trial is proceeding in the Jerusalem District Court. At the end of December Nir Hefetz, a state witness but previously one of the Netanyahu family’s closest aides, finished his testimony after 5 weeks of examination.
  • Hefetz claimed that the battle between the competing newspapers was “actually only about Netanyahu, about his continued leadership. The person who initiated and advanced this battle … was Netanyahu. It could have ended or escalated in accordance with his wish.”

Context: Netanyahu faces fraud, breach of trust, and bribery charges in three separate cases: Case 1000, Case 2000, and Case 4000.

  • The court is currently hearing testimonies to Case 2000, where it is alleged that Netanyahu offered to intercede into the affairs of one newspaper to give commercial benefits to its competitor.
  • In Case 1000 Netanyahu is charged with fraud and breach of trust and is alleged to have received illegal gifts from businessman. In Case 4000 Netanyahu is charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust and is alleged to have promoted regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, in exchange for positive coverage from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.
  • It is suggested that a plea bargain is being negotiated now because Netanyahu and his lawyers see the approaching end of Mendelblit’s term – end of January – as an opportunity for a deal.
  • Netanyahu can ask for a plea bargain at any stage in the trial before a verdict is handed down, but it is believed the next attorney general will unlikely offer more generous terms than Mendelblit.
  • The deal rests on the issue of whether Netanyahu admits to moral turpitude and resign from political life. The prosecution wants this condition in the plea bargain, but Netanyahu appears unwilling to accept something that ends his political career.
  • Even if Netanyahu agrees to a deal, the prosecution will continue with the trial against Shaul Elovitch and against Yediot Ahronot publisher Noni Mozes.
  • One report suggests that Netanyahu is not really interested in a plea deal at all and may simply be trying to depict the cases publicly as weak, pointing to the prosecution’s readiness to compromise.
  • Government figures are concerned by the possibility that Netanyahu’s departure from the Knesset would reorder political interests for many MKs, which would make it harder for the coalition to stay together.

Looking ahead: Justice system officials believe that Netanyahu’s attempts to reach a plea bargain will continue to the very end of Mandelblit’s term in two weeks’ time.

  • If Netanyahu agrees and steps down from politics, it could result in right-wing members of the government leaving to form a new right-wing coalition with the Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties.
  • However, a senior coalition official said last night: “No one is interested in holding an election. I don’t envision a situation for a different government in the current Knesset.”
  • For more information about Netanyahu’s trial and possible outcomes if a plea deal is not reached, reading our briefing on the trial here.

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