Netanyahu’s lawyers discuss a plea to end his corruption trial

JERUSALEM — Lawyers representing former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are working with state prosecutors to reach a plea in his long-running corruption case, according to a spokesman for Israel’s Justice Ministry and two people involved in the talks. conversing with.

The talks are expected to conclude by the end of the month and, if successful, will help end a legal process that contributed to years of political instability in Israel and, ultimately, the end of June of Netanyahu’s record tenure as prime minister. till the end of

The proposed bargain involves Netanyahu admitting to certain charges, all of which are still formally denied in court, in exchange for prosecutors downplaying the seriousness of one charge, dropping the other altogether and Netanyahu. Instead of protesting, he was allowed to avoid serving a prison sentence. service, said two interlocutors.

Negotiators said talks are currently on hold, as Netanyahu does not want to accept an allegation of “moral turpitude” that would bar Netanyahu, the leader of Israel’s biggest right-wing party, from public office for seven years.

The details, which were first reported in a centrist Israeli newspaper, Maariv, were confirmed to The New York Times by one of the main moderators, Aharon Barak, former chairman of Israel’s Supreme Court, and a second person involved in the talks. who talked about it. The condition of anonymity to discuss the conversation openly. A Justice Ministry spokesman confirmed that talks are taking place, but declined to confirm any further details. The office of Boaz Ben Tzur, one of Netanyahu’s leading lawyers, declined to comment.

The talks are the latest twist in a legal process that began in 2016, which claimed Netanyahu accepted gifts from beneficiaries in return for political favors.

The investigation expanded after Netanyahu was accused of luring the owners of two media companies in exchange for positive news coverage. The allegations quickly divided Israelis between those who believed Netanyahu should step down to avoid scaring the office of prime minister and those who thought he was the victim of a judicial conspiracy.

The argument deepened a long-running national debate about the power of the judiciary and drew comparisons with the uproar surrounding US efforts to impeach President Donald Trump.

Like Trump, Netanyahu described himself as a victim of a biased justice system, describing the process as a “witch hunt” and an “attempted administrative coup” when his trial began in 2020.

Netanyahu’s decision to engage in negotiations and his engagement with Barak, a former judge considered a head of the Israeli legal establishment, both have therefore taken some Israelis by surprise.

Barack said he had agreed to play a role because Netanyahu, in matters that did not affect him personally, had historically helped protect judicial independence and because Netanyahu’s partial acknowledgment of social divisions. and restore confidence in the judiciary.

“It is of national importance that this has resulted in the accused himself saying, ‘I believe I did this,'” Barack said in a phone interview.

The case caused two years of political stagnation, mainly because it divided Netanyahu’s right-wing voter base as well as his right-wing allies in the Israeli parliament – a fissure that led to four inconclusive elections from 2019 to 2021. After the first three votes, Netanyahu’s remaining allies won enough seats to remain in power, but not enough to form a stable coalition government or pass important legislation such as a national budget.

The deadlock ended after a fourth election last year when three smaller right-wing parties agreed to form a grand alliance with ideological opponents of left-wing, centrist and Islamist parties to form a parliamentary majority large enough to force Netanyahu to step down .

If Netanyahu, currently the leader of the opposition, agrees to the deal and leaves politics, analysts said the decision would be untenable, though not necessarily the current coalition government, to collapse entirely. The argument holding the coalition together would be weakened if they were forced to abandon representative politics as it could prompt right-wing members of the current government to form a separate coalition with the new leader of Netanyahu’s party, Likud. But it will take time for Likud to choose a president. And once elected, the new leader may still be too closely linked with Netanyahu to become a viable partner for his right-wing opponents, said Anschel Pfeiffer, an Israeli political columnist and biographer of Netanyahu.

Pfeiffer, using Netanyahu’s nickname, said, “Likud will remain Bibi’s tribute band until they have a strong new leader, and I can’t see any candidates for that job.”

The office of the current prime minister, Naftali Bennett, who leads a right-wing faction, declined to comment. But in a speech to cabinet on Sunday morning, Bennett said the government was continuing to operate as normal.

“All the different political analysts, with their graphs and scenarios, can rest assured,” Bennett said. “The Government of Israel is working and will continue to work quietly and effectively for the citizens of Israel day in and day out.”

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