Jan 19, 2022 - World

Netanyahu plea talks enter crunch time

Netanyahu (right) meets with his lawyer ahead of a court hearing last February. Photo: Reuven Casto/Pool/AFP via Getty

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's opposition leader and former prime minister, is negotiating a possible plea deal over the corruption charges against him, but Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit appears to be toughening his terms.

Why it matters: Mandelblit leaves office on Jan. 31. Negotiations could continue beyond that point, but the next attorney general may be less interested in quickly reaching a deal.

Behind the scenes: During his secret negotiations with the attorney general, Netanyahu recruited one of his political nemeses — former Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak — to lobby Mandleblit in favor of a plea deal.

  • When Barak's intervention came to light it shocked many on the political right, who had been attacking the judge for years for pulling the court in a more activist direction, and many on the left, who couldn't believe Barak would lobby in favor of Netanyahu after his attacks on the Israeli legal system.
  • Mandelblit and Barak have both faced heavy criticism in the press and within the legal establishment over the potential deal.

The state of play: According to Israeli press reports, Mandelblit has toughened his position, in part due to pressure from the prosecutors in Netanyahu’s trial.

  • The attorney general is now demanding that Netanyahu agree to exit politics for seven years and to a sentence of 7 to 9 months in prison, to be served as community service.
  • Netanyahu brought his wife and their two sons to a meeting earlier this week with his lawyers, apparently to persuade the family — which has appeared skeptical of any deal — to get on board.
  • Netanyahu's lawyers have said in a statement that he won't agree to leave politics for seven years, but it's unclear whether that's his real position or a negotiating tactic.

What’s next: We should have a clearer sense by the end of this week whether the parties are on track for a deal before Mandelblit leaves office.

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