Netanyahu’s lawyers have met with AG to discuss non-binding mediation in graft trial

Meeting said to have happened this week; PM’s defense team reportedly seeking to convince Gali Bahara-Miara to back process, which would accelerate years-long court proceedings

Left: Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara at her welcome ceremony in Jerusalem on February 8, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90). Right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on January 11, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Left: Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara at her welcome ceremony in Jerusalem on February 8, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90). Right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on January 11, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Lawyers for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met this week with Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara to discuss the prospect of a non-binding mediation process in his ongoing corruption trial, Hebrew media outlets reported Thursday.

The meeting came after a judge in Netanyahu’s criminal trials suggested the sides try non-binding mediation to reach an agreement on a plea deal. In the meeting, Netanyahu’s attorneys sought to convince Baharav-Miara to back such a process, which would accelerate the years-long trial, according to the reports.

Baharav-Miara’s approval is needed for talks to proceed, but has yet to weigh in on the matter, the Ynet news site reported. According to Channel 12 news, however, prosecutors said Baharav-Miara was not interested.

“It was the court that recommended that prosecutors reach meditation in light of the developments in the trial,” a source close to Netanyahu said in response. “The prime minister’s lawyers said they do not oppose this and their position has not changed.”

There was no comment from the attorney general.

The reports came after the Justice Ministry denied last week that Baharav-Miara ruled out non-binding mediation, calling it “speculation” and saying that no decision has been reached on the matter.

Netanyahu’s trial began three years ago and, as things stand, the proceedings, including potential appeals, are seen as unlikely to end before 2028-2029.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of his trial on corruption charges, May 24, 2020. Visible behind him are two of the three judges in the case, Rivka Friedman-Feldman and Oded Shaham. (Screen capture/Government Press office)

The premier faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He has denied wrongdoing and claimed without evidence that the indictments are part of an effort by political rivals, the media and law enforcement to push him from office.

Last month, Channel 12 reported that Jacques Chen, a lawyer for one of Netanyahu’s fellow defendants, the former Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch, suggested mediation for all defendants during a discussion before Judge Oded Shaham.

Mediation is generally held before a serving judge (not one of the judges in the trial), who does not hear witnesses and does not restart the trial, the report noted. Rather, the judge tries to work toward what amounts to a potential plea bargain.

For instance, the report said, the judge could cancel the bribery charge against Netanyahu and convict him of fraud and breach of trust — a potential resolution reportedly considered when former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit held plea bargain contacts with Netanyahu’s lawyers in late 2021 to early 2022.

The mediator can also come up with “creative suggestions,” the report said, including on the matter of “moral turpitude” attached to a conviction, which could potentially bar Netanyahu from public office for seven years.

Mandelblit and Netanyahu’s lawyers engaged in several weeks of talks toward a potential plea deal, during a period when Netanyahu was not in office.

While the potential for such an agreement had much of the nation on the edge of its seat, the negotiations eventually fell apart shortly before Mandelblit left office and was replaced by Baharav-Miara.

Former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit attends a conference organized by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), in Tel Aviv, on December 28, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

According to unconfirmed reports of the plea deal negotiations, Mandelblit was demanding that any plea deal with Netanyahu include a clause of “moral turpitude” — which would bar Netanyahu from public office for seven years. Some reports said that a period of just two years was also discussed in the plea bargain, and that Mandelblit backtracked after temporarily agreeing to this. In addition, the reports at the time said that other charges would be significantly lowered in two of the cases against the former premier, and dismissed in the third.

But in a statement following the collapse of the talks, Netanyahu said he would not agree to acknowledge “moral turpitude” as part of a potential plea bargain, and said he had no intention of leaving politics.

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