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Secretive plea bargain talks may have begun as early as July

AG said to have agreed deal for Netanyahu to quit politics for just 2 years, reneged

Reports say Mandelblit backed away from offer amid scathing criticism from state prosecution colleagues, is now demanding ‘moral turpitude’ clause which spells 7-year ban for ex-PM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset, on November 20, 2019 (left); Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit addresses the press in Jerusalem, on November 21, 2019. (Gali Tibon; Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset, on November 20, 2019 (left); Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit addresses the press in Jerusalem, on November 21, 2019. (Gali Tibon; Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit initially offered former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu a far more lenient plea deal in his corruption trial than the one currently being discussed, but backed away due to a flood of pressure from key figures in the prosecution, Channel 12 reported Friday.

According to the report, Netanyahu, 72, the current opposition leader, would only have had to commit to stepping away from public life for two years, with the charges also being significantly lowered in two of the cases against him and dismissed in the third.

Since reports of the negotiations emerged last week, they have generally said that Mandelblit has been demanding that any plea deal with Netanyahu include a clause of “moral turpitude” — which would bar the former prime minister from public office for seven years.

This requirement was underlined on Thursday by Deputy State Attorney Shlomo Lamberger, who made the first public remarks by a senior justice official on the offer, telling a conference held by the Israel Bar Association that it would be “inconceivable” for a plea deal not to include the clause.

“Anyone who understands moral turpitude understands that with such acts it is inconceivable there isn’t moral turpitude,” Lamberger said.

Netanyahu is on trial in three separate graft cases: for fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000, and for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000. Under the currently reported potential deal, the bribery charge in Case 4000 would be dropped, and Case 2000 would be closed altogether.

Head of the opposition and of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, on November 15, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The reports have listed Mandelblit’s current conditions for an agreement as follows: Netanyahu admits to fraud and breach of trust in cases 1000 and 4000; he accepts the designation of moral turpitude; he will be sentenced to seven to nine months of community service; and he admits to having instructed former Communications Ministry director Shlomo Filber to provide benefits to the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq media company, Shaul Elovitch — the main accusation against the former premier in case 4000.

However, the Channel 12 report Friday said that Mandelblit had previously agreed to Netanyahu stepping away from public office for just two years. It also said that the proposed agreement could have had included a suspended jail sentence, as opposed to the community service and suspended sentence currently on offer.

In addition, the AG was prepared to not only drop Case 2000 and the bribery charges, but also to reduce the fraud and breach of trust in cases 1000 and 4000 to “a lower level.”

Mandelblit was forced to change course due to a deluge of criticism over the lenient terms from senior justice officials and the prosecution, the report said, adding that many of these officials, including some working directly on the Netanyahu trial, were not told of the negotiations.

The TV report also accused the AG’s office of duplicity, saying it has tried to present the negotiations as though they are a recent development, when in fact talks have been going on formally, but in secret, for at least five months, and possibly since last July, with at least five meetings between the sides.

There has been no formal confirmation of the talks from either side.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara leave after meeting on the plea deal with their lawyers, outside Boaz Ben Zur’s home in Ramat Gan, January 16, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Friday night reports on Channel 12 and 13 claimed both sides now believe that there will not be an agreement before Mandelblit steps down as attorney general at the end of the month.

The gaps between the sides appear to be too wide to be bridged in the short time left in Mandelblit’s tenure, the reports said, though Channel 12 said some in the prosecution believe it could yet be feasible in the next week, provided Netanyahu agrees to the terms. Netanyahu and his lawyers are reported to be wary of accepting the terms unless or until they are certain Mandelblit will finalize the deal; Sara Netanyahu was quoted earlier in the week saying the outgoing attorney general cannot be trusted.

Both TV channels suggested that the sides could seek “criminal arbitration” by the head of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, with any final deal only likely to be reached once a new attorney general is appointed.

According to the network, State Attorney Amit Aisman — who will be filling in the attorney general post until a permanent candidate is selected — has said he would not touch the plea deal negotiations at all.

It is not yet clear when a new permanent attorney general will be appointed, but the process is likely to last at least a few weeks into February.

Veteran Channel 12 political commentator Amnon Abramovich said Netanyahu was the one pushing for a deal as he wanted to leave politics and go and “make money.”

“Netanyahu wants to quit. He wants to make money. That’s what he’s also told his family. He told me a few years ago, ‘I can make $300,000 a month easily,'” Abramovich said.

Abromovich said Netanyahu was only remaining as opposition leader as a bargaining chip to use in the negotiations.

Both Channel 12 and 13 said that it was likely a deal would eventually be reached, noting that politicians in both camps were already gearing up for the post-Netanyahu era.

Several prominent Likud members have declared their intention to try and succeed Netanyahu, who has been party head for almost two decades.

Channel 13 said that, within Likud, former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat and ex-finance minister Israel Katz were already campaigning.

Former culture minister Miri Regev has also declared her candidacy if Netanyahu leaves, but has slammed her colleagues, particularly Katz, who has been reported to have begun moves to set up an alternative coalition under his leadership.

Likud lawmaker Miri Regev tours Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, on February 28, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“If he is doing that it’s a very big mistake,” Regev told Channel 12 on Friday. “I suggest we let Netanyahu make his decision; it’s not honorable to preempt it.”

“Netanyahu needs to take his time with this difficult decision. To already start dividing up the spoils is not the right thing to do,” Regev said. “The day after, we will act according to the Likud charter. Of course, Israel Katz won’t be the only candidate to head the Likud.”

Netanyahu denies all allegations against him, and claims the charges were fabricated by a biased police force and state prosecution service, overseen by a weak attorney general, in league with political opponents and the leftist media.

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