Former Israeli Prime Minister : Could Netanyahu opt for plea bargain
Israel–Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is allegedly close to agreeing to a plea deal in his corruption trial, which may bring an abrupt end to his tumultuous political career and upend Israeli politics once more.
The revelation that Netanyahu, the head of the Likud party and leader of the opposition since being removed from power last year after a 12-year reign, had entered advanced discussions with the state attorney’s office dominated Israeli media on Sunday. According to reports, Netanyahu would plead guilty to two charges of breach of trust, receiving a suspended jail sentence and a few months of community service in exchange.
The primary sticking point appears to be Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s insistence on a charge of moral turpitude — a formal pronouncement that Netanyahu is keen to avoid because it may prevent him from running for office for seven years. The former prime minister is accused of giving a major Israeli telecom business special treatment in return for good stories on its Walla news site. He’s also accused of obtaining favorable coverage in a second case, as well as receiving gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from rich pals in a third.
After being indicted in 2019, the 72-year-old ignored demands to resign, instead using his prime ministership to lash out at law enforcement, the media, and the courts for waging a “witch hunt” against him. His trial began in 2020, during which the country was engulfed in a two-year political crisis marked by four elections in which voters were deadlocked between Netanyahu’s leadership and indictment. The former prime minister’s legal team appears to have determined that the window for a plea deal is shrinking, with Mandelblit’s time as attorney general coming to an end later this month and his replacement unlikely to prioritize Netanyahu’s charges.
Aharon Barak, the former president of the Supreme Court and a longtime confidant of Netanyahu, is said to have served as a conduit between the former prime minister and state prosecutors. “In my opinion, this is a unique indictment and trial, which is generating a division in the nation,” he told the Ynet news website of his participation in the discussions. A plea bargain is the better choice in the quest to mend that divide. This is a positive and critical stance for Israel.”
Netanyahu’s political career would be virtually ended if he accepted a plea agreement that included a multi-year suspension from politics. It would also force Likud to have a leadership election, with the consequences reverberating in unanticipated ways. The Likud’s attempts to destabilize the broad coalition government that was sworn in last June may be hampered by internal fighting over the appointment of a new chair.
Rightwing sections of the ruling coalition may contemplate discarding the existing structure in favor of a more politically cohesive cabinet led by the next Likud chair if the party manages to reach a broad agreement on a new leader. On Sunday, the daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported a Likud source as stating that Netanyahu had “shifted into a lower gear” in recent months after keeping the agreement discussions hidden from his party.
According to the report, the former prime minister was “less focussed, less centred, he didn’t attend much in Knesset plenum meetings, and he cancelled faction meetings.” He only did two things: he attacked senior party members and he uploaded infantile movies on TikTok. That’s not the way to lead your opponents.” Netanyahu is seeking a bargain in a defamation lawsuit against his predecessor as Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, in addition to settling his corruption accusations. Netanyahu has sued Olmert for 837,000 shekels (£197,000) in damages over accusations that Netanyahu, his wife Sara, and their eldest son, Yair – all rightwing public personalities – are mentally ill.
In a hearing last week, Judge Amit Yariv proposed that Olmert clarify that his words were his opinion rather than truth — a solution that a Netanyahu family spokeswoman said was acceptable, though there was no sign that Olmert would accept it right away. Apart from Netanyahu, Olmert is the only Israeli prime leader who has been charged with corruption. He was convicted of fraud in 2015 and served two-thirds of a 27-month sentence.