Netanyahu’s lawyers discuss plea bargain to end his graft trial

JERUSALEM — Lawyers for Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s former prime minister, are in talks with state prosecutors to reach a plea bargain in his longstanding corruption case, according to a spokesman for Israel’s Ministry of Justice. Justice and two people involved in the negotiations.

The talks are expected to wrap up by the end of the month and, if successful, would help wrap up a legal process that contributed to years of political instability in Israel and ultimately the end of the term last June. Netanyahu’s record as prime minister. .

The proposed deal includes Mr. Netanyahu admitting some of the charges, which he still formally denies in court, in exchange for the prosecution reducing the seriousness of one charge, dropping another entirely and allowing Mr. Netanyahu to avoid serving a prison sentence. doing community service instead, the two negotiators said.

The talks are currently stalled, however, because Mr. Netanyahu does not want to accept the charge of “moral turpitude,” a designation that would prevent Mr. Netanyahu, the leader of Israel’s largest right-wing party, from exercising powers. public office for seven years. , negotiators said.

The details, reported for the first time in Maariv, a centrist Israeli newspaper, were confirmed to The New York Times by one of the main mediators, Aharon Barak, former president of the Israeli Supreme Court, and a second person involved in the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity. to openly discuss the negotiations. A Justice Department spokesperson confirmed talks were taking place, but declined to confirm further details. The office of Boaz Ben Tzur, one of Mr Netanyahu’s top lawyers, declined to comment.

The talks are the latest twist in a legal process that began in 2016 with a police investigation into allegations that Mr Netanyahu accepted gifts from benefactors in exchange for political favors.

The investigation widened after Mr Netanyahu was accused of offering inducements to the owners of two media companies in exchange for positive media coverage. The charges quickly divided Israelis between those who believed Mr Netanyahu should resign to avoid tainting the prime minister’s office, and those who believed he was the victim of a legal conspiracy.

The argument delved into a long-running national debate over the power of the judiciary and drew comparisons to the furor surrounding U.S. efforts to impeach President Donald J. Trump.

Like Mr Trump, Mr Netanyahu cast himself as the victim of a biased justice system, describing the process as a ‘witch hunt’ and an ‘attempted administrative coup’ when his trial began in 2020 .

Both Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to enter into negotiations and his engagement with Mr. Barak, a former judge considered a dean of the Israeli judicial establishment, therefore surprised some Israelis.

Mr. Barak said he agreed to play a role because Mr. Netanyahu, in matters not personally involving him, had historically helped protect judicial independence and because a partial confession by Mr. Netanyahu could help heal social divisions and restore trust. in the judiciary.

“It’s of national significance that this thing results in the defendant himself saying, ‘I admit I did it,'” Barak said in a phone interview.

The affair caused two years of political stagnation, largely because it shattered Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing electoral base as well as his right-wing allies in the Israeli parliament – a fissure that led to four inconclusive elections of 2019 to 2021. After the first three votes, Netanyahu’s remaining allies won enough seats to stay in power, but not enough to form a stable coalition government or pass key laws like a national budget.

The stalemate ended after a fourth election last year, when three small right-wing parties agreed to form a grand coalition with ideological opponents from leftist, centrist and Islamist parties to create a parliamentary majority large enough to force M Netanyahu to leave office.

If Mr Netanyahu, the current opposition leader, agrees to the deal and leaves politics, analysts said the move would destabilize, though not necessarily completely, the current fragile coalition government. The logic that binds the alliance would weaken if he were forced to abandon representative politics, as this could prompt right-wing members of the current government to form a different coalition with the new leader of Mr. Netanyahu’s party, the Likud.

But Likud will take time to elect a president. And once elected, the new leader may still be too closely tied to Mr. Netanyahu to be a viable partner for his right-wing opponents, said Anshel Pfeffer, an Israeli political columnist and biographer of Mr. Netanyahu.

“Likud will remain the Bibi tribute group until it has a strong new leader, and I don’t see any candidates for that position,” Mr. Pfeffer said, using a nickname for Mr. Netanyahu.

The office of current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who leads a right-wing faction, declined to comment. But in a cabinet address on Sunday morning, Mr Bennett said the government was continuing to work as normal.

“All the different political analysts, with their charts and their scenarios, can be reassured,” Bennett said. “The government of Israel is working and will continue to work quietly and efficiently, day in and day out, for the citizens of Israel.”

Most analysts believe that if a plea bargain is to take place, it will have to be agreed by the end of January. The state official handling the case, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, is retiring in early February and his successor is unlikely to focus on such a contentious issue early on.

Opponents of Mr. Netanyahu demonstrated outside Mr. Mandelblit’s home on Saturday night, urging him to allow the case to go to trial.

About Bernice Dyer

Check Also

Fiji says US can seize Russian superyacht but not right away

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A judge in Fiji has ruled US authorities can seize a …