Jan 14, 2022 - World

Possible Netanyahu plea deal could force him out of politics

Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Amit Shabi/Pool/AFP via Getty

Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has for several weeks been negotiating a plea agreement with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, according to Israeli media reports.

Why it matters: One key sticking point is whether the deal, which would require Netanyahu to plead guilty to corruption charges, would also require the former prime minister to step away from politics. Any deal would create a political firestorm in Israeli and could bring down the current government.

  • That's because Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government — which includes left-wing, centrist and right-wing parties — was formed seven months ago mainly to oust Netanyahu from power. It excluded the largest party, Likud (led by Netanyahu), because of the corruption charges.
  • Netanyahu is the “glue” that holds the current government together. If he exits the stage, Israel could either head for new elections or a new government under new Likud leadership.

Driving the news: On Jan. 12, Israeli journalist Ben Caspit first reported about the negotiations, which were held secretly between Netanyahu’s lawyer and the attorney general.

  • Several other reports have followed, outlining the proposed terms of the deal. Neither Netanyahu nor the Ministry of Justice has denied them. Netanyahu hasn't commented publicly, but many of his supporters in Likud are continuing to call on him to fight.
  • The allegations against Netanyahu include that he systematically demanded gifts from businesspeople worth in excess of $250,000 in total and offered regulatory benefits in exchange for favorable media coverage.

Behind the scenes: Netanyahu initiated the negotiations informally through mediators. After the attorney general demanded a formal proposal, Netanyahu's lawyers weighed in.

  • Netanyahu's lawyers pushed him for three years to consider a plea deal, but he refused. His wife and son both pressed him to fight the indictments in court.
  • But with Mandelblit's term expiring at the end of January, Netanyahu's lawyers urged him once again to negotiate given the long odds of acquittal on all three indictments for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, according to several media reports.
  • His lawyers argued that Mandelblit has an interest in closing this case before leaving office and may be prepared to give him a better deal than the next attorney general.

State of play: Netanyahu’s lawyers proposed he would plead guilty on two charges, serve no jail time, and resign from the Knesset, but with the possibility of running again in future elections, according to the reports.

  • Mandelblit insisted that any plea deal include jail time — to be served as community service — and require that Netanyahu remain out of politics for at least seven years.
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