Opposition leader MK Benyamin Netanyahu reportedly assured fellow leaders of opposition parties on Sunday that he is not considering any plea bargain in his ongoing corruption trial.
A plea deal would likely include a conviction on offenses that would force the former prime minister out of public office for at least a few years.
The leaked comments were picked up by several Hebrew media outlets, but there were no direct quotes attributed to Netanyahu.
A statement from Netanyahu’s office said that any talk of a plea bargain is just “false political spin” and that “the issue is not at all on the agenda,” the Israel Hayom newspaper reported.
Netanyahu had reportedly been in intense negotiations with the State Prosecutor’s Office to sign a deal that would have allowed him to avoid jail time in exchange for taking a significant break from politics. But the talks broke down last January.
At the time, Netanyahu publicly declared that he would not agree to any deal that included a conviction with “moral turpitude,” which would bar him from public office for several years, though Deputy State Attorney Shlomo Lamberger said in January that it would be “inconceivable” for a plea deal not to include such a clause.
Netanyahu’s reported vow Sunday to pursue his trial to the end came as the government teeters on the brink of collapse, with an equal number of seats in the Knesset as the opposition.
At the meeting of opposition party chiefs held at his Likud party’s headquarters in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu predicted the government would soon tumble.
“The government will fall within a short time. We are going to replace the government or go to elections,” Netanyahu told the meeting, according to the Walla news site.
Lawmakers agreed to work on a bill of no-confidence and to decide in the coming days whether to bring it to the Knesset on Wednesday, according to the report. Opposition parties hope to leverage a boycott on parliament activities by the coalition Ra’am party in their efforts to bring down the government.
Netanyahu’s Likud party said in a statement after the meeting that there was an agreement on “a determined and united struggle to overthrow the government within a short time. The government has lost its Knesset majority — it has no public legitimacy and it is illegitimate.”
The development came as the Knesset reconvened following its spring holiday recess. In a setback for the government, Ra’am, an Islamist party, froze its membership in the coalition three weeks ago following heavy clashes between Palestinians and police on the Temple Mount during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The freeze was originally set to last only two weeks, the majority of that time during the Knesset recess, but Ra’am has yet to formally rejoin the coalition as of Sunday, Ra’am Knesset member, Walid Taha, confirmed. Meanwhile, fellow Ra’am lawmaker Mazen Ghanaim said he will recommend to his faction that it quit the increasingly fragile coalition.
The current coalition already holds just 60 seats in the 120-seat Knesset following the recent defection of coalition whip Idit Silman from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s own Yamina party. Ra’am holds four seats.
However, it remains unlikely that the opposition can muster the 61 votes necessary to dissolve the Knesset and force new elections. Neither the Arab Joint List nor ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism, both in the opposition, have expressed a strong desire to head to elections and it remains unclear whether they would vote to topple the government.
Bennett leads a diverse coalition of left, center, and right parties along with the Arab Ra’am party. The motley mix was largely united under a common goal of ousting Netanyahu from power.
As an alternative to going to elections, Likud has reportedly been seeking to pry enough right-wing lawmakers out of the coalition to join it and its opposition allies in forming an alternative government.
Netanyahu, 72, 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 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.