A-G, Netanyahu plea deal still hanging in balance

Bennett dismisses speculation over plea deal with ex-PM

Head of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett gives a press conference at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on May 05, 2021.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Head of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett gives a press conference at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on May 05, 2021.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

The potential plea bargain between Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu was still very much on the fence Sunday night, with the prosecution warning that stalling by the former prime minister could run out the play clock.

The prosecution has emphasized that Netanyahu cannot hope to suddenly agree to a deal on February 1 and wrap up the entire negotiating process in 24 hours, like he might try to do in political coalition negotiations.

Rather, the prosecution is saying Netanyahu still has not agreed to their conditions on a formal negotiating process that could take several days or longer, and Mandelblit is only in office until February 1.

This latest messaging could also be spin by the prosecution to push Netanyahu over the edge sooner, as the sides’ differences on many of the details, besides the issue of a finding of moral turpitude and ending Netanyahu’s career, are less far apart.

In addition, Mandelblit on Sunday was facing growing pressure from the prosecution team for Netanyahu to issue a statement clearing their names after his years of personal attacks on them.

 Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz at the Knesset, November 15, 2021.  (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz at the Knesset, November 15, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

On Sunday night, it was unclear what Netanyahu would decide, though all indications are that his legal team wants him to take the deal, with more mixed views from his family members.

When Sara Netanyahu accepted a plea bargain in the Prepared Foods Affair, it was only after several months of negotiations and repeated pleas from her lawyers, and Mandelblit will not remain in office for several months.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tried to end speculation over the political impact of a plea deal with Netanyahu at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting.

“The political commentators can set aside their speculation and their graphs and stop worrying,” he told his ministers in his first response to the negotiations. “The government of Israel is working and will continue to work well and quietly, day by day, for the citizens of Israel.”

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman spoke against a plea agreement with Netanyahu on KAN News Sunday morning, saying such a deal would be “unjust.” He said his confidante, former Yisrael Beytenu deputy minister Faina Kirschenbaum, was given a 10-year jail sentence “for crimes less severe than those of which Netanyahu is accused.”

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz on Sunday slammed the potential plea deal, writing on Twitter: “No one endangered the rule of law in Israel more than Netanyahu.”

“Against the most corrupt, we must find justice,” he wrote. “That is the interest of the public.”

Two coalition MKs, Michal Shir (New Hope) and Limor Magen Telem (Yisrael Beytenu) presented bills that would double the period of time that a candidate convicted of a serious crime could not be prime minister.

The legal concept of moral turpitude currently applies for seven years. The bill would double it to 14.

The plea deal did get a public boost from a key opinion influencer on Sunday.

Speaking to Israel Radio on Sunday, former chief justice Aharon Barak came out of the shadows and publicly supported the plea bargain deal days after his name was being tossed around by the media as supporting the deal behind the scenes.

He said he supported the deal not only because of the legal issues, “but because for many years, he [Netanyahu] defended the courts. I respected him a lot then. After I retired, he would call me sometimes about international law questions.”

“But once the indictment was filed, there was a drastic change – a revolution,” Barak said. “Instead of defending [the legal establishment], he tried to smash it.”

“It is good to approve the plea deal – it removes the stinger stuck in the legal establishment as well as Netanyahu’s claim that the case was manufactured,” he said.

“In contrast, Netanyahu would be saying, ‘I admit I am responsible.’ This is so important and dramatic – among the factors to consider, it is the most important,” Barak said.

Besides the possible deal with Netanyahu, there have been reports that Yediot Aharonot owner Arnon “Nuni” Mozes might also cut a deal to help close Case 2000, the Yediot Aharonot-Israel Hayom Affair.

In the meantime, Netanyahu’s case might not end the trial on Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla Affair, since there have been no negotiations with Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch.

Whereas ousting Netanyahu from politics would carry a special value for the prosecution, there is no corresponding card for Elovitch to play, and the prosecution might still seek jail time.

Meanwhile, Elovitch’s team has signaled they are ready to fight on to the end, even if Netanyahu cuts a deal, and any deal that drops bribery from the charges against the former prime minister could benefit them.