MaarivIsrael news photo: Flash 90

A Tel Aviv court Tuesday approved the sale of the ailing Maariv newspaper to the religious publisher of the right-leaning Makor Rishon newspaper.

Maariv employees have contested the sale and even published Tuesday’s paper with a blank front page to illustrate what the future could hold in store, but Tel Aviv District Court Judge Varda Alshech approved the sale “after it emerged that the employees reached agreements with the buyer regarding the outline of the deal,” AFP reported.

Arutz Sheva’s Internet web sites and Besheva magazine remain Israel’s only national religious media outlets, but the sale of Maariv to Shlomo Ben-Tzvi gives the nationalist community a potentially wider voice. Makor Rishon is written towards a nationalist platform but does not promote itself as a religious newspaper.

Ben-Tzvi has previously said he has no intentions of turning Maariv into a second Makor Rishon.

Maariv's NRG website reported that following night-long negotiations between the union and Ben-Tzvi's representatives, the buyer agreed to absorb 450 to 500 employees working as reporters, administration and printing, for a minimum of 18 months. All together, the buyer has committed to continued employment of 1,400 out of 2,000 current employees.

In addition, the paper's 900 distribution workers will sell its services for at least two years, the website reported.

Prior to the agreement, journalists had threatened to go on strike over the deal, with many also concerned about the future of its editorial line after its sale to Ben-Tzvi, who lives in a Jewish community claimed by the Palestinian Authority.

Arutz Sheva and Besheva pioneered what has become a trend towards nationalist views in Israeli media, still dominated by the center-left and secular Yediot Aharonot in print, the quasi-government Voice of Israel radio network and IDF Radio on the airwaves, and the liberal Channel 2 and Channel 10 news on television.

The stunning success of the free Yisrael HaYom newspaper, owned by U.S. billionaire pro-Netanyahu Sheldon Adelson, has somewhat diluted the influence of Yediot.