The State of Israel vs. Benjamin Netanyahu: This real-life play about power and abuse is performed three times a week in a Jerusalem courtroom. The former Israeli prime minister and current leader of the opposition faces corruption charges and faces a long prison sentence. However, a verdict is not in sight, the process could drag on for years. But now the case has suddenly started to move. Israel’s media are overflowing with reports about a possible deal between Netanyahu and the judiciary. He could avoid imprisonment this way – but he would have to pay a high price for it. Netanyahu has been accused of corruption, fraud and breach of trust in three cases since 2019. After several secret rounds of negotiations between his lawyers and representatives of the judiciary around Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, there is said to be agreement that the most serious allegation of bribery could be dropped. In return, Netanyahu would have to plead guilty to fraud and breach of trust. He would probably get away with a short prison sentence, which could be converted into community service. The sticking point, however, which is apparently still controversial, is whether he will be accused of “moral misconduct” in the verdict. In that case, he would be barred from public office for seven years.
An admission of guilt could severely disappoint his supporters
Mandelblit is reportedly insisting that Netanyahu’s political ban is part of the deal. Anything else would probably be difficult to convey within the judiciary, given the seriousness of the allegations – and also given the attacks that Netanyahu had ridden against the investigators and prosecutors. He had not only accused them of a “witch hunt” but also of “attempting a coup d’etat”. State radio is now reporting that Netanyahu’s lawyers would advise him to consult with the judiciary, but his family was adamantly opposed to it. In fact, such a deal would probably mark the abrupt end of his political career. Netanyahu is 72 years old and could at best convince himself that his great role model Winston Churchill took a break from the prime minister’s office in his early seventies, only to return six years later as a saviour. In his case, however, it is more likely that he would have to spend a lot of time with his wife Sara and try to increase his assets. Netanyahu himself had always ruled out dealing with the public prosecutor’s office in the past. His mantra was: “There will be no such thing because there was nothing.” He promised the still large following to prove his innocence in the process. An admission that one is guilty of fraud and breach of trust could cause a lot of disappointment. It is therefore possible that the negotiations, which are said to have come about at the initiative of Netanyahu’s lawyers, are just a big bluff. An attempt to parade the prosecutors according to the logic: When they deal with the accused, they don’t seem to be sure of their case. On the other hand, there are also some developments that may have made Netanyahu realize that it would be better to save now what can still be saved. The process is not going well for the accused. His former confidant Nir Hefetz recently put him in the dark with his statements. More key witnesses from the judiciary are to appear shortly.
Netanyahu leads the opposition – but does he still have a chance of regaining power?
Attorney General Mandelblit’s term of office ends in two weeks. Netanyahu could speculate that he still wants to bring this case to a conclusion. From his point of view, better things should not come anyway. The successor will be chosen by Justice Minister Gideon Saar, who left the Likud party in protest against Netanyahu and still has a few scores to settle with him. Finally, Benjamin Netanyahu’s political prospects are no longer all that rosy. His hope of quickly replacing the government that was formed in June has not been fulfilled. The colorful eight-party alliance of his opponents has so far proven to be relatively stable. However, Netanyahu still has leverage to bring down this government. Should he withdraw from politics, the right-wing coalition parties would have little reason to deal with left-wing and Arab partners to govern. The advantage: his Likud party could return to power. The downside: Benjamin Netanyahu would have none of it.
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