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January 17, 2022

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is negotiating a plea deal that could end his corruption trial, a source close to the talks has said.

An agreement could see Mr Netanyahu, 72, plead guilty to reduced charges in return for community service instead of a possible jail term. Reports say Mr Netanyahu is, however, objecting to accepting a charge which would require him to leave politics.

Israel's longest-serving leader was unseated after elections last year. He is head of the right-wing Likud, the largest party in the Israeli parliament, and was prime minister for a record 15 years.

In his last five years in office, Mr Netanyahu was dogged by a police investigation into allegations against him, followed by the start of his trial in 2020. He is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in connection with three separate cases. He denies the charges against him, saying they are politically motivated.

Reports that Mr Netanyahu has been discussing a plea deal with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit emerged in Israeli media in recent days. An unnamed source connected to the talks confirmed the negotiations on Sunday, news agencies said.

Israeli media say Mr Netanyahu has instructed his lawyers to continue the talks despite reported objections of his family to the prospect that he would accept a level of guilt.

In the three cases against him, Mr Netanyahu is accused of receiving gifts in exchange for favours; negotiating to improve the circulation of an Israeli newspaper in exchange for positive coverage; and promoting legislation financially favourable to the owner of an Israeli telecom giant in exchange for positive coverage on its news site.

Conviction on the latter charge alone - considered the most serious of the three cases - carries a jail term of up to 10 years and/or a fine.

The source close to the talks said that in return for the cases being dropped Mr Netanyahu is being asked to accept a charge of "moral turpitude", which would ban him from politics for seven years - something which the former prime minister is said to be objecting to.

Mr Netanyahu, who has the solid support of his political base, has railed against the current coalition government and has said he aims to return to power at the earliest opportunity.

His years in office saw a deepening rift between the left and right in Israel, with weekly mass demonstrations against him in the final months of his premiership. Polls reports in Israeli media on Sunday suggested that a majority of the country are opposed to a plea deal, with most believing his fate should be decided in court.