Former Israeli soldier Elor Azaria (C), who was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for killing a wounded and incapacitated Palestinian assailant, waits to hear the ruling at an Israeli military appeals court in Tel Aviv, Israel July 30, 2017. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Although it may seem that the Hebron shooter saga has dragged on forever, it’s only been 17 months and there are still potential twists and turns after the Military Court of Appeals upheld the 18-month jail sentence.
There are three more paths Elor Azaria can take to avoid jail time or to get a quick release.
First, Azaria can appeal the IDF top court’s decision at the High Court of Justice.
This would be a rare move and is usually reserved for Palestinians appealing their administrative detention, but it is a possible path.
It is also extremely unlikely to succeed after a five-judge panel of the IDF’s top court, including president of the Military Appeals Court Maj.- Gen. Doron Peles and retired district court judge Col. (res.) Zvi Segel, rejected Azaria’s appeal.
Another path is requesting a pardon from IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.
In recent months and before Sunday, Eisenkot appeared unlikely to grant a pardon, having taken a public and clear tone against Azaria’s actions during the case. Probably right after the January 4 manslaughter verdict was handed down, and before Azaria was sentenced on February 21, would have been an ideal opportunity for Azaria to cut a deal for lenient treatment.
At that point, Azaria’s Kfir Brigade battalion commander Col.
Guy Hazot reached out to him to try to reach an understanding where he would admit fault in exchange for the IDF prosecution potentially seeking a lighter sentence.
Rather than embrace this path, Azaria’s original defense team attacked Hazot publicly as trying to impinge on the former soldiers right to fight his jail sentence or appeal. Even after the 18-month sentence when his original defense team was ready to make a deal, Azaria’s family hired a new lawyer, Yoram Sheftel, who attacked any attempts by the IDF to cut a deal in exchange for foregoing an appeal.
This probably blew Azaria’s chance at almost guaranteed lenient treatment. But even Sunday, Eisenkot signaled a readiness to seriously weigh some kind of lenient treatment to Azaria if he dropped appealing to the High Court. Probably part of this deal would also include admitting fault, which Azaria has strongly resisted until now.
If Azaria and Eisenkot still do not reach some kind of a deal.
The Hebron shooter can go one step higher and ask Avigdor Liberman as defense minister to propose to President Reuven Rivlin to pardon him.
So Rivlin gets the last say.
Who is Rivlin likely to listen to? Before becoming defense minister, Liberman was clearly on Azaria’s side. Suddenly, upon becoming defense minister he took a backseat and started calling for all sides to respect the courts decisions.
Still, his sympathy has been with Azaria. He could say he both respects the courts and supports a pardon in light of the idea that Azaria is “one of our sons.” Liberman is still hoping Azaria and Eisenkot will make a deal. But if there is no deal, Liberman would need to recommend a pardon over the objections of the IDF legal division and Eisenkot.
Other than the temporary decision to install metal detectors on the Temple Mount, Liberman has avoided publicly contradicting Eisenkot and the IDF legal division on major issues.
He may not have the stomach for this especially after Azaria spurned multiple attempts at cutting a deal and taking responsibility.
So Rivlin will likely either get contrary recommendations about pardoning Azaria or a consensus against pardoning him.
Rivlin also has not shown any desire to make risky pardons.
He did not pardon either former president Moshe Katsav or former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
In some ways, the “one of our sons” Azaria is more sympathetic and far more of the political class and the public are consistently in favor of a pardon.
But here again Azaria’s attack on the legal system as rigged may work against him.
Rivlin has tremendous respect for the legal system, and has been one of its staunchest defenders in recent years.
If he feels that pardoning Azaria would be seen as a rebuke of the legal system as being rigged, he is unlikely to go that way even if he has sympathies with Azaria.
Ultimately, while anything is possible, as long as Azaria continues to refuse to admit any degree of mistake, at least as a moral matter, he is likely to end up serving his jail sentence.