Netanyahu plea deal held up by opposition to wording that would end political career

Attorney general insisting court rule former Israeli PM’s conduct was ‘moral turpitude’

Lawyers for former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu have been conducting negotiations with Israeli legal officials over a plea deal relating to the corruption charges he faces, but Mr Netanyahu's reluctance to accept any wording that would end his political career is holding up a deal.

Mr Netanyahu is on trial at the Jerusalem district court on charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud. He denies all the charges and claims he is the victim of a witch hunt by the left and the political elites in the Israeli judiciary and media.

Under the emerging deal, the most serious charges of bribery would be dropped and converted into breach of trust and Mr Netanyahu would be sentenced to a few months of community service, resigning from the Knesset parliament immediately.

However, attorney general Avichai Mandelblit is insisting that the court rule that Mr Netanyahu's conduct constituted moral turpitude, which would bar him from serving in public office for seven years , effectively ending the political career of the 72-year-old opposition leader who has served longer than anyone else as Israeli prime minister.

Contacts are continuing but Mr Mandelblit steps down on February 1st, and commentators believe the chances of his replacement accepting a plea bargain are slim.

Three cases

Mr Netanyahu is on trial in three separate cases.

In the first of the three, known as Case 1,000, he and his wife, Sara, are alleged to have received gifts worth the equivalent of €230,000 including cigars, pink Champagne and jewellery, from wealthy friends.

Case 2,000 centres on an allegation that Mr Netanyahu asked the publisher of the Yedioth Aharonoth newspaper for positive coverage in exchange for help in reining in a rival publication.

Case 4,000 is the most serious of the three and the only one involving bribery allegations. It involves claims that Mr Netanyahu, when he also served as communications minister, ensured financial benefits for Bezeq, Israel's largest telecommunications company, which was owned by Shaul Elovitch, in return for favourable coverage on the popular news website Walla!, also owned by Mr Elovitch.

If Mr Netanyahu decides to accept a plea deal involving a moral turpitude clause, the ramifications would almost certainly lead to the end of the government led by Naftali Bennett.

Opposition to Mr Netanyahu, including bitter personal animosities from many of the party leaders, is the glue that keeps the disparate eight-party coalition together.

A Likud led by anyone except Mr Netanyahu could probably form a new coalition with some of the right-wing and centrist parties in the current government, together with the Orthodox parties , without the two left-wing parties – Labour and Meretz – and Ra'am, the United Arab List.

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