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Netanyahu thanks fundraiser donors, skips Knesset session amid plea deal reports

After NIS 2.6m raised, ex-PM says he and family touched by supporters’ efforts; Lapid dismisses concerns coalition could break up if opposition leader makes deal

Head of opposition and of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu leads a faction meeting at the Knesset December 6, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Head of opposition and of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu leads a faction meeting at the Knesset December 6, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu made his first public comments on Monday since reports broke that he had instructed his lawyers to press ahead with talks on a plea deal in his corruption trial, thanking supporters who donated money as part of a crowdfunding effort to help cover the costs of his defense.

“Thank you to the multitudes of Israeli citizens for their tremendous support and wonderful love in recent days,” the former premier tweeted.

“The warmth of your hearts has touched my family and myself in an unparalleled way,” he wrote.

Netanyahu tweeted the statement alongside a 2016 family photo of himself, his wife Sara and his two sons, Avner and Yair.

The fundraising campaign started by the former prime minister’s supporters has so far raised over NIS 2.6 million (some $835,000). It is unlikely he would be able to accept the funds as a serving lawmaker.

Netanyahu is one of Israel’s richest politicians, with Forbes reporting in 2019 he was worth NIS 50 million ($13.8 million).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second left, and his wife Sara, second right, tour in Tel Gezer and Magshimim Forest together with their sons Yair, right, and Avner, left, during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, October 21, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Hours before Netanyahu made the statement, it was announced that he would be skipping planned appearances at the Knesset on Monday.

The opposition leader had been expected to address a special Knesset plenum to mark the festival of Tu Bishvat as well as the 73rd anniversary of the founding of the parliament. However, he said he would be unable to attend the event due to “scheduling constraints.”

Additionally, the faction meeting of his Likud party was canceled for the third week in a row, Channel 12 news reported.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid pushed back against recent reports that a potential plea deal for Netanyahu could bring down the coalition that was formed to oust the longtime premier.

Some analysts believe that if Netanyahu signs a plea deal and withdraws from political life, the government’s right-wing factions could break away and form a coalition with the Likud party under new leadership.

“The government will last, it is not dependent on Netanyahu. It depends on joint action and depends on the fact that we have formed a government that unites Israeli society instead of all the splits, rifts and incitement,” Lapid said.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset, on December 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hebrew-language media reported that Netanyahu had instructed his lawyers to press ahead with talks with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on a plea deal.

Netanyahu and his family met Sunday with his lawyers to decide whether to accept a deal. Following the four-hour meeting, reports said that despite misgivings from his family, Netanyahu had asked his lawyers to move forward with the deal.

The lawyers reportedly were in favor of the agreement and sought 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 the month were low.

Citing unnamed sources close to Mandelblit, Channel 13 news said that even if Netanyahu were to agree his actions would be designated as involving “moral turpitude” — which would bar him from public office for seven years — the gaps between the two sides were too great to bridge before the attorney general steps down.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at the press conference announcing his decision to make then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stand trial, November 21, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

According to reports on 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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