Although there are a myriad ways to analyze whether Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s formula for a plea deal with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the right one, there are at least two legal and legal-political arguments which stand out.
One is within the perspective of the legal community.
Would the mix of a certain conviction for fraud and breach of public trust in Cases 4000 and 1000 along with a finding of moral turpitude ending Netanyahu’s political career, but without a bribery conviction and without any jail time, justify foregoing the uncertainty and destabilizing influence of continuing the current trial?
The second has a legal flavor to it as well, but is mixed with politics because it looks at the perspective of the country as a whole.
Would the above formula really end the debate about whether the trial against Netanyahu was legitimate and whether he was corrupt, or would it feed permanent uncertainty on the issue?
Within the legal community, the question essentially comes down to what is better for the “public interest” as defined by statutes, court decisions and custom.
Supporters of the deal will point out that the main goals of the indictment and trial were always to invalidate Netanyahu’s conduct with the media and with tycoons, as well as to remove him from politics so as to end any continued potential corruption.
As time went on and Netanyahu turned the trial into a basis to attack the basic legitimacy of the legal establishment, it also became important simply to win any conviction to suppress his attacks, and bolster the rule of law.
From this perspective, putting him in jail was a goal, but only the third or fourth goal of many.
In that sense, Mandelblit’s formula would fulfill most of the main purposes, save the country from continued tumult, allow the warring camps to move on and remove the possibility of a disastrous acquittal.
Critics of the deal will say that the trial is going well so that Mandelblit should be going for a “knock out” punch that includes a bribery conviction and jail time, and that legally destroys any remnant of Netanyahu’s claims against the legal establishment.
They will say that Mandelblit and the prosecution should trust the courts to convict based on the evidence that has been brought to bear and not worry so much about the in-between phase where the trial is ongoing and there is some uncertainty.
Further, they will be furious at the idea that Mandelblit would close Case 2000 entirely, which former state attorney Moshe Lador once said was a bribery case worth the equivalent of one billion shekels, because it was about winning the premiership.
Much of the legal community may understand that Mandelblit is pulling out a number of legal wins here, but this is only the breakdown of views within the that community.
Within the broader view of the country, Netanyahu may come out looking much stronger.
At the end of the day, all that many average citizens understand is: jail or no jail.
If there is no jail, no jump suit, no moment of complete surrender and disgrace, then Netanyahu may be able to promote himself as the victor.
Yes, there are those who hated Netanyahu before the case and believed he was guilty as sin for every piece of the indictment, if not more.
And yes, the average citizen will see that Netanyahu was ousted from politics and that this is different from Shas party leader Arye Deri’s plea deal in which he can remain in politics and only needs to resign temporarily from the Knesset.
But there were many who never lost respect completely for Netanyahu so much as they thought he needed to move on for the good of a deadlocked country.
If Netanyahu highlights that there were three bribery cases from the police, which turned into one bribery and two minor fraud cases in Mandelblit’s hands, which turned into zero bribery cases and two minor fraud convictions in the court’s hands – he will be able to convince many average citizens that he came out ahead.
Depending on what limits the potential plea deal might put on him, he may even be able to argue that he still does not believe he did anything wrong, and merely admitted to the minor charges in order to save the country further distractions or to “spend more time with the family.”
The High Court of Justice will probably see the deal as a vindication of the legal establishment because former chief justice Aharon Barak supports it.
But much of the general public does not spend much time thinking about Barak and will see that the entire Israel Hayom-Yediot Aharonot Affair and the idea of media bribery has dropped out of the narrative.
So the legal establishment itself will probably be split by Mandelblit’s formula, but its top echelons will feel they have secured and returned the public’s faith.
Significant sections of the swing-voter public, on the other hand, may not see it the same way.