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Netanyahu said leaning toward accepting plea deal after talks with lawyers

Reports say ex-PM’s wife Sara and son Yair are main opponents of an agreement, but former premier’s lawyers are urging him to press ahead with talks with AG

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)
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)

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed his lawyers to press ahead with talks with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on a plea deal in his criminal corruption trial, Hebrew media reported early Monday.

Netanyahu and his family met Sunday with his lawyers to decide whether to accept a plea deal.

According to Channel 12 news, Netanyahu was accompanied by his wife Sara and sons Yair and Avner for the meeting at the home of his lawyer Boaz Ben Zur. Also said to be present were another of Netanyahu’s attorneys, Amit Hadad, family lawyer Yossi Cohen, and longtime confidant Natan Eshel.

Following the four-hour meeting, reports said that despite misgivings from his family, he had asked his lawyers to move forward with the deal.

“In the end, it’s up to one person — Netanyahu,” Channel 12 quoted a source involved in the talks as saying. “During the meeting, it was decided to move forward toward a deal.”

The Ynet news site said Netanyahu’s lawyers would approach Mandelblit on Monday with a view to moving forward as soon as possible with the deal.

However, the reports noted that the Netanyahu family was concerned about public opposition to the deal.

Dozens of activists gathered outside Ben Zur’s home, chanting slogans against a plea deal.

Earlier, TV reports said that Sara Netanyahu had reversed her position and was now opposed to a plea deal, as were Netanyahu’s sons.

A separate report carried by Channel 13 news said Sara Netanyahu was the biggest opponent of a plea deal, believing it was illegitimate that a “bureaucrat” like Mandelblit would decide on the matter.

That report also said she saw no reason for her husband to accept a deal requiring him to leave politics, as she maintains that he committed no wrongdoing.

Netanyahu’s lawyers, on the other hand, reportedly were in favor of the agreement and were seeking to convince the former premier to sign it, calling it “an excellent deal.”

At the same time, multiple reports Sunday night indicated the prospects of a deal being sealed before Mandelblit’s term ends at the end of January were low.

Citing unnamed sources close to Mandelblit, Channel 13 said the chance a deal would be reached was “tiny,” as it would require agreements on amending the indictment against Netanyahu and having him admit that a suspect in one of the three cases he was charged in did try to bribe him.

The sources said that even if Netanyahu were to agree his actions carried a designation of “moral turpitude” — which would bar him from public office for seven years — the gaps between the two sides were too great to bridge before Mandelblit steps down.

Sources close to Mandelblit also told the Haaretz daily that the chance of reaching a deal in the coming weeks was “negligible,” with too many details left to hash out, even if Netanyahu agreed to the “moral turpitude” clause and admitted to fraud and breach of trust.

State prosecutors also cast doubt on the prospect of wrapping up a plea agreement before Mandelblit leaves office.

“The chance that there’ll be an agreement with Mandelblit is very small, even weak. The media is going much further than the reality. Practically speaking, there’s almost no time, even if the defense accepts the attorney general’s terms,” a source in the State Attorney’s Office was quoted as saying by Channel 12 news.

Additionally, the network said there were currently no negotiations taking place, with Mandelblit still waiting for Netanyahu to accept the basic terms for an agreement, including the “moral turpitude” designation.

It also said some prosecutors want Netanyahu to formally retract his broadsides against police and prosecutors, and say there was no basis for his claims of bias and that he was the victim of a witch hunt.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a conference in Tel Aviv, on June 29, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The latest reports came after media outlets reported in recent days that Netanyahu has been resisting an agreement so far primarily due to Mandelblit’s demand that he agree that his actions involved “moral turpitude.”

According to reports Saturday, Netanyahu and Mandelblit may 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.

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.

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