AG said set to decide on whether to allow non-binding mediation in Netanyahu trial

TV report says Baharav-Miara skeptical over move, since it would likely mirror earlier plea bargain proposal which Netanyahu rejected over clause forcing him from public life

Left: Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara at her welcome ceremony in Jerusalem on February 8, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90). Right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on January 11, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Left: Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara at her welcome ceremony in Jerusalem on February 8, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90). Right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on January 11, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara is expected to soon issue her decision on whether to accept the prospect of a non-binding mediation process for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his ongoing corruption trial, according to a TV report Friday.

Lawyers for the premier met with the attorney general last week to discuss the matter, after a judge in Netanyahu’s criminal trials suggested the sides try non-binding mediation to reach an agreement on a plea deal. In the meeting, Netanyahu’s attorneys sought to convince Baharav-Miara to back such a process, which would accelerate the years-long trial, according to the reports in the Hebrew-language media.

According to Friday’s Channel 12 report, Baharav-Miara is skeptical about the value of such a mediation process, and would only move forward if Netanyahu commits to leaving public life, a result that could have long since been achieved under a proposed plea deal.

Channel 12 on Friday quoted sources close to Netanyahu saying they believe his lawyers can win the case, but are also wary that trials can be unpredictable. And while a plea bargain would mean Netanyahu would have to exit politics, it would spare him from a possible prison sentence.

The premier faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He has denied wrongdoing and claimed without evidence that the indictments are part of an effort by political rivals, the media and law enforcement to push him from office.

A long-standing proposed deal under former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit would see Netanyahu plead to breach of trust charges and potentially leave political life, in exchange for serving no prison time.

According to unconfirmed reports of plea deal talks in late 2021 to early 2022 between Netanyahu’s lawyers and Mandelblit, the former attorney general was demanding that any plea deal with Netanyahu include a clause of “moral turpitude” — which would bar him from public office for seven years. Some reports said that a period of just two years was also discussed in the plea bargain negotiations, and that Mandelblit backtracked after temporarily agreeing to this. In addition, the reports at the time said that other charges would be significantly lowered in two of the cases against the former premier, and dismissed in the third.

Former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit attends a conference organized by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), in Tel Aviv, on December 28, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s trial began three years ago and, as things stand, the proceedings, including potential appeals, are seen as unlikely to end before 2028-2029.

In March, Channel 12 reported that Jacques Chen, a lawyer for one of Netanyahu’s fellow defendants, the former Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch, suggested mediation for all defendants during a discussion before Judge Oded Shaham.

Mediation is generally held before a serving judge (not one of the judges in the trial), who does not hear witnesses and does not restart the trial, the report noted. Rather, the judge tries to work toward what amounts to a potential plea bargain.

Mandelblit and Netanyahu’s lawyers engaged in several weeks of talks toward a potential plea deal, during a period when Netanyahu was not in office.

While the potential for such an agreement had much of the nation on the edge of its seat, the negotiations eventually fell apart shortly before Mandelblit left office and was replaced by Baharav-Miara.

In a statement following the collapse of the talks, Netanyahu said he would not agree to acknowledge “moral turpitude” as part of a potential plea bargain, and said he had no intention of leaving politics.

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