Busy With Plea Deal in Corruption Case, Netanyahu Is Absent From the Knesset

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu tells attorneys to push on in negotiations with Israel's attorney general. Sources close to the former PM claim he missed Knesset events due to COVID concerns

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Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset earlier in January
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset earlier in January Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu missed a number of events in the Knesset on Monday amid contacts over a plea bargain in his corruption trial.

A debate that required Netanyahu’s presence was canceled in the morning after Likud failed to reach agreements with the coalition on its postponement. The hearing was due to debate “Loss of Jewish identity and harm to the status of the Western Wall.”

Netanyahu was also due to speak at a special session in honor of the Knesset’s 73rd anniversary, but he dropped his plans to attend the event. Likud MK Ofir Akunis spoke in his place.

As has been the case over the past few weeks, Monday’s Likud faction meeting was also canceled. Sources close to Netanyahu claim that the reason for his absence is concern about being infected with the coronavirus.

Netanyahu thanked his supporters via his Twitter account: “Thank you, citizens of Israel, for your enormous support and love over these past few days. Your warmth has moved me and my family.”

Sources close to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said Sunday they believe the chances of a plea bargain being reached with Netanyahu before the end of his term, which comes at the end of this month, were “minimal.”

According to a source close to the attorney general, even if Netanyahu were to announce right now that he agrees to the three principles set out by Mendelblit as conditions for a plea bargain – admission of guilt in on two counts of breach of trust; admission of moral turpitude, which would bar him from holding political office for seven years; and a sentence of community service – it is unlikely that finalizing the details of such an agreement would be possible over the next two weeks.

Netanyahu asked his attorneys on Monday to resume talks with Mendelblit, after a two-week lull.

On Sunday night, the former prime minister, his wife Sara, and his sons Yair and Avner met with Netanyahu’s attorneys Boaz Ben Tzur and Amit Hadad at Ben Tzur’s home in Ramat Gan. Netanyahu’s attorneys have lately suggested to him that he agree to a plea bargain that leaves the issue of moral turpitude for the court to decide. Mendelblit has said he will be willing to reach a plea bargain only if it includes moral turpitude. However, at this stage, Netanyahu remains opposed.

According to the outline of the agreement discussed by the sides, Netanyahu will admit to two counts of breach of trust in Cases 1000 and 4000, while the prosecution will withdraw charges of bribery in Case 4000, and of breach of trust in Case 2000.

If Netanyahu signs a plea bargain, the prosecution plans to emphasize in its indictment the severity of his deeds to ensure that the court meets its insistence on a finding of moral turpitude. However, a description of the gravity of the crimes could lead the court to decline the plea bargain and determine that the agreed-upon sentencing emerging between the sides – a few months of community service – is not appropriate given the severity of the offenses. To balance the renunciation of prison time, the prosecution plans to demand that the accused pay a fine of hundreds of thousands of shekels.

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