The candidacy of former Shas Party leader Aryeh Deri for Mayor of Jerusalem has reminded many city residents of his role in advancing the Oslo process.
Deri led the Shas Party politically from 1984 until he was forced to resign in 1999 following his conviction on bribery charges. The MKs of Shas abstained in the first Oslo Accords vote in the Knesset in 1993, and voted against the Second Oslo Agreement in 1995.
However, this does not tell the full story. Shas joined with Meretz and Labor in 1992 to form the Rabin government that forged the Oslo Accords. Without the six Knesset seats of Shas, the 62-member government coalition would have fallen.
As Gideon Levy has written in Haaretz (Dec. 3, '07), "Deri's Shas was not a left-wing party, but it... refrained from undermining the first Oslo agreement."
Steven Bayme of the American Jewish Committee put it this way: "Deri was a key player in the Oslo Accords signed with the Palestinians."
Labor Newspaper: Labor/Deri for Oslo
But possibly most telling of all, the Labor Party's own Davar newspaper, now defunct, headlined its issue of September 19, 1993 - a week after the first Oslo Agreement was signed - as follows: "The Labor Government cooked up a deal to postpone the trial of Aryeh Deri in exchange for the support of Shas for the Oslo agreement."
In February 1997, when the hareidi-religious newspaper Yated Ne'eman uncovered the above report, the judicial organization B'Tzedek called for an investigation as to whether there were criminal aspects to the above understanding reached between the Rabin government and representatives of Aryeh Deri. The deal was apparently not implemented, however.
Character Witnesses Praise His Oslo Stance
In March 1999, when Deri was about to be sentenced for his conviction on bribery charges, he produced an array of character witnesses to testify in his favor. One of them, former Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat, said he remembers the late Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin saying that he was impressed with Deri's "positive attitude towards the Palestinians and the peace process in general." Another famous witness for Deri was former IDF Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shachak, who testified that Deri had contributed to the peace process under the Rabin government.
At least one commentator, Attorney Elyakim HaEtzni of Kiryat Arba, raised questions at the time about the propriety of implications that one who supported Oslo should have his prison sentence reduced.
Slogans Against Deri
Now, although Deri says he will not allow the division of Jerusalem, some right-wing organizations are already gearing up to actively oppose his candidacy. They plan a campaign with the motto, "Deri is dangerous for Jerusalem," and "Deri is a left-winger with a skullcap."
The heretofore hareidi-religious candidate, Meir Porush, will probably not run if Deri does, so as not to split the hareidi sector's vote. Deri has received the blessing of the renowed sage, Rabbi Shalom Yosef Elyashiv.
Marzel: Deri is the Same Deri
Baruch Marzel of the Jewish Front movement says, "Deri has not repented. He continues to mingle with the same clique, continues to declare left-wing opinions, and even after Gush Katif, still says that there is no choice and we must give up territories in the Land of Israel."
Deri also faces another obstacle in his bid to become mayor. The law states that he must wait seven years from the time he left prison until he seeks public office - and only six years have passed. He must receive permission from President Shimon Peres, and then presumably from the Supreme Court, to have the cooling-off period reduced. He served two years of his three-year sentence.