Wild rumors started circulating on Wednesday morning about a possible plea bargain negotiation between the prosecution and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and they continued on Thursday with a variety of scenarios being tossed out.
Is any of this for real?
The truth is that plea bargain negotiations with Netanyahu date to 2018, when his longtime lawyer, Jacob Weinroth, tried to cut a deal with his longtime colleague, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit.
There are different versions of what happened, but at least one possibility is that Mandelblit and Weinroth were ready to cut a deal with no jail time if only Netanyahu would gracefully bow out of politics.
There is no question that Mandelblit was ready for such a deal, and he made this clear to those around him.
According to this version, Netanyahu vetoed the deal.
Moreover, Weinroth died in 2018, and none of Netanyahu’s other lawyers had the same standing with Mandelblit.
In any event, once Netanyahu turned the case into a personal attack against Mandelblit and the legal establishment as a whole, the attorney-general was no longer in the mood for a lenient deal without jail time.
Given how some of the potential holes in the case play out in court, the question now is whether Mandelblit has returned to his original position of 2018, and whether Netanyahu, who has already lost the premiership, is more willing than he was then to bow out of politics.
But that is not the only question.
Mandelblit could have cut such a deal in 2018 without as much fuss from the state prosecution that serves under him. However, now the state prosecution has been fighting its heart out at trial since May 2020, and with witnesses three days a week since April.
The prosecution has taken some unexpected hits, but has also landed some hard punches from witnesses Ilan Yeshua and Nir Hefetz.
The prosecution and Mandelblit are still demanding a complete end to Netanyahu’s political career, and his lawyers are pedaling a variety of in-between scenarios they hope might be considered, though they have been rejected so far.
Netanyahu has always been a master of psychological warfare through the press. Presenting divisions between Mandelblit and the prosecution could be an attempt to drive an existing wedge deeper.
One thing is certain: Mandelblit will not sign a deal that allows Netanyahu to remain an MK in the near future, which would be a deal more lenient than that given to Arye Deri, leader of Shas.
The question is whether jail time and a finding of moral turpitude – which would force Netanyahu out of politics for seven years– are really off the table, as some reports say, or whether it is simply that Netanyahu wants the public to think this.