A finding of moral turpitude would trigger a seismic shift in the Knesset’s balance of power.
By David Hellerman, World Israel News
Israeli media buzzed with reports that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit have been secretly negotiating a plea agreement.
An agreement would end three separate corruption cases against Netanyahu and likely his political career too.
The Hebrew reports haven’t been confirmed and in some cases, raise conflicting details. But the general contours indicate that Netanyahu would plead guilty to fraud and breach of trust stemming from Case 4000, also known as “the Bezeq affair” and Case 1000, known as “the Gifts affair.”
In exchange, prosecutors would drop a far more serious charge of bribery and close a third case, Case 2000, known as the “Yediot affair.” Netanyahu would be sentenced to community service, but not serve time in jail.
The three corruption cases were combined into one trial.
In Case 1000, known as “the Gifts affair,” Netanyahu is accused providing political favors to Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan after receiving $200,000 in gifts.
In Case 2000, known as “the Yediot affair,” Netanyahu is accused of striking a quid pro quo with Yediot Ahronot publisher Arnon Mozes to support legislation that would weaken rival newspaper Israel Hayom in exchange for favorable coverage.
In Case 4000, known as “the Bezeq affair,” Netanyahu is accused of providing regulatory benefits to the Bezeq telecom giant in exchange for favorable coverage in Walla News, which is owned by Bezeq chairman Shaul Elovitch.
However, the negotiations are said to be deadlocked over one point that has significant ramifications for Israel’s political scene.
In Israel, convictions that include a finding of “moral turpitude” bar the defendants from public service for seven years. For Netanyahu, who is 72, that would essentially mean the end of his political career. Moral turpitude is a finding that a certain act or behavior gravely violates community standards.
Reports say Mandelblit insists the plea agreement must include moral turpitude. They also suggest Netanyahu might prefer to gamble on a trial than accept that finding.
Should the two sides agree on that finding, a plea agreement could potentially be announced within days.
If the moral turpitude sticks, it would trigger a seismic shift in the Knesset’s balance of power.
That’s because the leaders of the coalition parties always insisted that they are willing to bring Likud into the government as long as Netanyahu wasn’t running it. The governing coalition only has a one-seat majority, so bringing Likud and its 30 seats into the coalition would provide more governing stability and reshuffle the cabinet.
It would also pave the way for the religious Shas and United Torah Judaism parties to join the coalition too.
A shift to the right would almost certainly end the rotational agreement between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
It’s unknown if the Islamic party, Ra’am would stay in the government. Party leader Mansour Abbas has said in the past he was prepared to sit in any governing coalition under the right conditions. But he would have little leverage.
The possibility of Netanyahu resigning from the Knesset and then returning in the next election has precedent though.
In December, Shas chairman Aryeh Deri agreed to plea agreement in which he admitted certain tax offenses, paid a NIS 180,000 fine and resign from the Knesset. Because there was no finding of moral turpitude, Deri is not precluded from running in the next election, and it is widely presumed that he will.