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Netanyahu in talks to reach plea bargain in corruption trial

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly in the early stages of negotiating a plea deal related to the corruptions charges he faces.
Amir Levy
Getty Images
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly in the early stages of negotiating a plea deal related to the corruptions charges he faces.

Updated January 16, 2022 at 8:59 PM ET

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is negotiating a plea deal in his corruption trial that could lead to him stepping away from politics for seven years.

The former prime minister is facing three separate corruption cases that involve media moguls and wealthy supporters. The charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust stem from allegations including trading favors to media groups in exchange for positive press coverage.

The talks are going on behind closed doors with Israel's attorney general.

A person involved in the negotiations told NPR a deal would have Netanyahu admit to breach of trust, not bribery, and avoid prison. But disagreement remains over whether the final deal would necessitate Netanyahu leaving politics for seven years, at the end of which he would be nearly 80 years old.

Netanyahu remains a member of Israel's parliament, the Knesset.

An Israeli justice official confirmed to NPR that the negotiations are happening and are in the early stages. Both people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the talks.

The charges have significantly weakened Netanyahu politically. His loss of support led the country's parliament to oust him last June — putting an end to his 12-year run as the top politician.

The corruption trial has been going on for months with witnesses being called to the stand, so the news of a potential plea bargain is coming as somewhat of a surprise.

Netanyahu is still fighting the allegations against him

Netanyahu has called the charges against him trumped up and alleges there is a left-wing witch hunt against him, including in the justice system.

"They speak in high words about democracy. But what is done here again and again is an attempt to trample democracy. They are trying to cancel the will of the voters by fabricating charges," Netanyahusaid in April.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is set to retire at the end of January. With with no permanent successor yet determined, it's unclear if a new attorney general would offer the same deal if Netanyahu does not accept it within the next two weeks.

Mandelblit could see a plea bargain as favorable to end Netanyahu's attacks on the justice system.

The deal could lead to a leadership race in Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party or even collapse Israel's government.

The current government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is a diverse coalition that came together to push Netanyahu from office. A collapse could lead to a grab of power by right-wing parties.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
Wynne Davis is a digital reporter and producer for NPR's All Things Considered.