President Moshe Katsav's lawyers on Monday finally received the evidence gathered by police during the investigation of their client and no longer have to flail about in the dark in response to leaks published in the media about his alleged misdeeds, as they have over the past six months.
Monday, therefore, marks the beginning of a new phase in the presidential affair. After studying the material, Katsav's lawyers, Zion Amir and David Liba'i, will have their one and only chance to talk Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz out of indicting the president or, at least, reducing the charges against him.
Obviously, they will regard it as a major achievement if they can persuade Mazuz to drop the charge of rape against Katsav in the case of the second "Aleph," the woman who worked for him when he served as minister of tourism.
Amir refused to talk to reporters on Monday except to confirm that he and Liba'i might hire another lawyer to help them go over the evidence. In fact, there seems to be less material to study than had been originally estimated - nine cartons filled with about 25 large, loose-leaf binders containing the testimony of the witnesses questioned during the investigation.
In many cases involving the investigation and proposed indictment of a senior public figure, the real aim of the suspect and his lawyers in the hearing is not to persuade the state to drop the charges, but to negotiate a plea bargain agreement. Amir has said he does not intend to do so. But it would be foolish of him to say anything else at this point.
After all, if he went on record now that this was his intention, he would be admitting in advance there was some truth to the allegations against Katsav. If he subsequently failed to reach an agreement with the state, he would go to trial having "confessed" that his client was guilty of something, even if not necessarily the charges for which he was indicted.
Not only that. Katsav has said in no uncertain terms that he did not have sexual relations with any of the women who complained about his conduct or any woman who had ever worked for him. This, indeed, is the gist of his defense. The women who complained are lying and the allegations against him are part of a conspiracy on the part of the "elite" to bring him down because he is Sephardic, he was not born in Israel, he was poor growing up and comes from a development town.
Assuming for a moment that he is not telling the truth about the women, Katsav might back down from this blanket denial under the right conditions. But certainly not before he knew what conditions the state was willing to give him in return for his confession.
For its part, would the state agree to a plea bargain agreement in which Katsav pleaded guilty to lesser charges than those contained in the draft indictment?
From the point of view of the public good, it should not. Given the public positions that Katsav has held during his political career, especially his current office, the public deserves to know the truth about the allegations against him, to hear the testimony of the witnesses for both sides and to receive a final verdict - one way or the other. It is hard to believe that Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz does not feel the same way.
There is also the possibility that Amir and Liba'i will convince Mazuz to reduce the allegations for objective reasons, on the basis of the evidence. But it is unlikely that this will happen either.
Haaretz legal affairs reporter Yuval Yoaz wrote recently that Mazuz is extremely well-versed in the details of the case. For almost three months, he and the members of the "presidential team" of prosecutors who examined the case and with whom he consulted frequently before making his decision, wrangled over which charges regarding each woman would stand up in court. As a result of these consultations, Mazuz reduced the number of rape counts against Katsav from four to one. It is hard to believe that the president's lawyers have anything to tell him that he does not already know.