Bennett: ‘Rest assured’ government will not fall if Netanyahu signs plea deal

Prime minister tells cabinet that coalition is’ working quietly and effectively’; ex-Supreme Court chief supports deal, says it would be good for the justice system

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a press conference in Tel Aviv on January 11, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a press conference in Tel Aviv on January 11, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett hit back on Sunday at speculations that his government could fall if former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed a plea deal in his corruption case.

“Our government is not pointing out problems, it’s working to fix them,” Bennett said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

“Therefore, to all the various political commentators, with all of your graphs and your scenarios, rest assured,” Bennett said. “The government of Israel is working and continuing to work quietly and effectively day after day for the citizens of Israel.”

With reports swirling over the past week that Netanyahu is close to signing a plea deal that could see him leave politics for up to seven years, many political analysts say such a move could spell the end of the current governing coalition.

The eight parties that make up the government are ideologically diverse and are largely seen as having united solely based on their desire to oust Netanyahu. The right-wing parties in the coalition — Bennett’s Yamina along with New Hope and Yisrael Beytenu — all swore they would not join Likud as long as it was still led by Netanyahu while he was in the midst of fighting corruption charges. But if Netanyahu is out of the picture, those parties could easily join with Likud’s 30 Knesset seats and other parties in that bloc to form a right-wing government.

Multiple members of the current government have already indicated that a political shakeup is possible if Netanyahu were out of the political sphere. Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said Netanyahu’s exit would be “the big bang of the Israeli political map,” while New Hope MK Sharren Haskel said “if Netanyahu goes, everything is possible.”

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court, on November 22, 2021. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)

Reports over the potential of a plea deal have indicated that the two sides may be at an impasse when it comes to a conviction of “moral turpitude,” the key clause that would bar the 72-year-old Netanyahu from political life for seven years.

According to the latest reports, Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit could agree to leave that decision up to the judges hearing the case. Even if Netanyahu signs a plea deal with state prosecutors, it will still need to be approved by the court.

Retired Supreme Court president Aharon Barak said Sunday that the court should accept such a deal.

“My position is that it is appropriate to approve the plea deal,” Barak told the Kan public broadcaster. Such a deal, he said, would be “Netanyahu essentially saying ‘I admit’ to being responsible for the charges. I think that’s a very important and dramatic thing.”

He told Kan that he believed that reaching such a deal would “take the sting out of the attacks on the court system.”

Former Supreme Court chief justice Aharon Barak speaks at a conference at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, on January 2, 2018. (Flash90)

Barak acknowledged Saturday that Netanyahu had asked him to speak with Mandelblit about the possibility of reaching a deal in the former premier’s graft trial.

“I won’t deny that when I reached out to Mandelblit, Benjamin Netanyahu’s contribution to the country was always on my mind. He was one of the greatest defenders of the Israeli justice system, until his trial,” Barak told the Ynet news site.

Barak stressed that any plea deal must include a clause that Netanyahu will be convicted of moral turpitude.

Channel 12 reported Saturday that sources close to Netanyahu — who has long publicly proclaimed that his innocence would be proven in court — are signaling he backs the deal, as do his attorneys. The network noted that the deal now on the table had been discussed on several occasions over the past two years, but that Netanyahu had previously refused to consider any proposal that involved moral turpitude.

Reports have indicated that Mandelblit may be eager to wrap things up before his term ends at the end of the month.

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. He denies all allegations against him, and says 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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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