The hareidi Shas saga refuses to subside, as shocking new statements by chairperson Aryeh Deri disparaging his rival, former chairperson Eli Yishai, give further indications the two will split early next week - likely in their Sunday meeting.
"I don't need him (Yishai), he just bothers me. We offered him what we offered him out of mercy," Deri told those close to him in closed conversations Thursday night, revealed by Yedioth Aharonoth on Friday.
Deri and Yishai have been rivals since Deri returned to politics taking back leadership a year-and-a-half ago after a stint in jail for corruption, during which time Yishai took over the reins of the party. The two are divided in terms of outlook, with Yishai being considered right-wing and Deri leaning increasingly leftward.
While Deri has been saying publicly he is waiting for Yishai's response on the steep demands he is leveling on him as condition for remaining in the party - such as getting permission from Deri before being interviewed - Deri's stance in private conversations has been a different story.
Asked Wednesday night in closed talks about the crisis with Yishai, Deri said "I'm practically not dealing with that. I did my part. I offered him what is possible because there's interest for us to be together. He has rights, despite that he dealt us great damage in the last year and a half. He strove and strove and strove (against us). But the Sephardic community doesn't love fights, and I want unity in the ranks."
"The truth is he bothers me, I'm just doing it for unity," continued Deri. "We're doing what we're doing out of mercy for the guy. I can cut things off now, but it isn't pressing for me. I don't mind another day or two. He's a big kid, let him decide by himself what he wants."
"In any case, I won't give him anything beyond what I gave him," added Deri, noting on the number two spot on the Knesset list he offered in return for his demands. "People ask me - why do you need him? But he was 13 years (in Shas) and he has the image of a good and humble person, and now we're starting to see his true face."
In response, a very close source to Yishai told the paper "we still want true peace, but it's clear that Aryeh Deri doesn't want us in the party."
Responding to the number two spot offer, he said it amounts to the same as the number ten spot in Shas given the centralization of power, "and therefore we won't settle with the offer and insist on true authorities. Without that - this embrace isn't worth anything."
Yishai will not be alone if he leaves Shas; two key rabbis Rabbi Meir Mazuz, dean of Yeshiva Kisei Rachamim, and Yeshiva Nahar Shalom dean Rabbi Benayahu Shmueli, warned they would withdraw their support from the movement as well if Yishai goes.
Polls have indicated that Yishai would get five seats if he ran alone, leaving Deri with only four. Yishai has also been in negotiations to form a new party with Tekuma faction head Uri Ariel who has been at odds with Jewish Home in terms of unifying with them, after running on a joint list in the last elections.
A recent poll shows Yishai and Ariel would do well in elections, gaining seven seats together.
Jewish Home sources spoke of the potential split in their party, with one senior source saying "it will be OK," even as another said "the crisis with Ariel seems serious."
Naftali Bennett, head of Jewish Home, and Ariel are to meet on Sunday to decide the fate of their parties. A source close to Ariel said "we'll go to the meeting and see what will be."