Aryeh Deri is expected to return to head the Shas party, Channel 2 News reported on Tuesday. The report came several hours after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that elections will be held in the coming months.
Deri is one of the founders of Shas and headed it through most of the 1980s and 1990s. During that period he was an icon to the Shas electorate for consolidating its welfare and educational achievements.
He was convicted of bribery and related charges in 1999 and was sentenced to three years in prison. He was released due to good behavior after serving two-thirds of his sentence. Since his departure from politics, Shas has been headed by Eli Yishai who serves as Interior Minister in the present government.
Deri has hinted more than once that he intends to return to politics, but at one point announced that he will form a new party. Later reports indicated that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas’ spiritual leader, had offered the number three slot in the party's list to Deri.
Deri, however, reportedly rejected that arrangement because he wants to be the party chairman. It is believed that if Deri were to form his own party he would be able to obtain many Knesset seats at the expense of Shas.
According to Tuesday’s report, Deri recently presented a compromise to Rabbi Yosef and the Council of Torah Sages of the Shas party and asked to be allowed to be Shas chairman. Eli Yishai would have the number two slot and would be the party's chief minister.
Channel 2 News reported that the offer was accepted with great enthusiasm by Rabbi Yosef as well as by Shas’ current number two, Housing Minister Ariel Atias. Yishai has yet to announce whether he accepts the proposal, said the report, but pressure is mounting on him to step down as chairman of Shas.
Yishai refused to comment on the issue when asked for a comment by Channel 2, saying, “I’m going to very boring in this case. In regards to Aryeh Deri, we have the Council of Torah Sages and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and therefore the questions are irrelevant.”