State prosecutors are willing to significantly reduce the charges against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the sides discuss a possible plea deal, according to a new report from Channel 12.
Over the past few days, a wide range of conflicting reports have emerged about details of a potential plea deal between Netanyahu and the state in his ongoing corruption trial in three separate graft cases.
According to a Channel 12 report on Thursday, the prosecution is willing to close one of the cases against Netanyahu — Case 2000, in which he is accused of attempting to reach a quid pro quo with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes for positive media coverage.
Prosecutors are also said to be willing to remove the bribery charge in Case 4000 — the most serious charge Netanyahu faces.
In that case, he is alleged to have worked to illicitly and lucratively benefit the business interests of controlling shareholder of the Bezeq media company Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage on the Walla news site owned by Elovitch.
And prosecutors are also reportedly willing to soften the charges in Case 1000 to remove allegations of fraud and leave only breach of trust charges.
The prosecution is also prepared not to demand a jail term, Channel 12 reported, under an arrangement in which Netanyahu would quit politics now and stay away from politics for several years.
The network said the gaps between the sides are very narrow, with the central question being Netanyahu’s future in politics — whether he would immediately quit the Knesset or do so only once a verdict is given.
Channel 12 said it was a distinct possibility that a plea deal will be signed “within days,” before Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit leaves office at the end of the month.
The Maariv daily revealed the existence of the talks on Wednesday, saying they had broken down over the dispute of a clause keeping Netanyahu out of office.
But both Channel 12 news and Channel 13 news reported later Wednesday that the talks were ongoing, with an “open channel” between the sides.
The Maariv report, citing sources familiar with the details, said the former prime minister has refused to budge in his demand that the agreement include neither an admission of moral turpitude nor, by implication, a prison sentence. The report said that the discussions have been held under strict secrecy, and have gone on for a number of weeks.
Channel 13, meanwhile, reported that Netanyahu is willing to admit to breach of trust — which could include a several-month prison sentence, or more likely community service — and to stay away from politics for a few years, in the hope of returning afterward.
The station also said that Netanyahu is seeking to simply delay any ruling on moral turpitude, and resign from the Knesset, ostensibly negating the need for the court to rule on it.
Meanwhile, the Kan public broadcaster said Mandelblit was insisting on Netanyahu being kept out of politics for at least several years.
Channel 12 reported that prosecutors were demanding a suspended sentence that would be converted into at least three months of community service, and the deal would include moral turpitude and thus keep the 72-year-old Netanyahu away from public life for seven years, likely ending his long political career.
Channel 12 cited sources within the prosecutor’s office saying Netanyahu initiated the talks, and calling some of his conduct in the negotiations “insolent.”
One source was quoted as carping that Netanyahu was seeking a deal in which he would actually come out ahead.
Several reports have said Netanyahu is trying to build on a recent plea deal prosecutors reached with Shas party leader Aryeh Deri, which downgraded the original bribery charge and saw him resign from the Knesset, though he may still be able to run for parliament again in the next election, with the issue of moral turpitude to be discussed in the future.
Netanyahu hasn’t publicly responded to the flurry of reports on the matter, possibly indicating that he sees potential in the negotiations. He has previously insisted that he would not seek a plea bargain, since the allegations against him are unfounded.
The State’s Attorney Office has also refused to comment on the flurry of recent reports, telling Maariv: “As a policy, we do not respond to questions about conversations with defense attorneys, whether they have occurred or not. This does not confirm or deny anything of what has been alleged.”
Wednesday’s reports were the first indication of discussions for a potential plea deal, but it is not the first time that Netanyahu has reportedly tried to reach some kind of agreement to prevent or end his trial.
In 2019, he was said to have sought a presidential pardon whereby he would be granted clemency by the next prime minister were he to leave office and end his political career. Netanyahu denied the report.
Netanyahu faces charges in three separate graft cases: fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000, and charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in Case 4000.
In Case 4000, the most serious against the former premier, he is alleged to have worked to illicitly and lucratively benefit the business interests of controlling shareholder of the Bezeq media company Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage on the Walla news site, owned by Elovitch.
In Case 1000, he is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts from two billionaires — Hollywood-based Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.
In Case 2000, he is accused of attempting to make a deal with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes for softer coverage of him in exchange for legislation to curb the reach of rival daily Israel Hayom.
Netanyahu denies all allegations against him, and says the charges were fabricated by a biased police force and state prosecution service, overseen by a weak attorney general, in league with political opponents and the media.