With election fervor rising to a fever pitch, Thursday’s papers break the news that Aryeh Deri, the ex-con Shas politician who announced his return to the ring earlier this year, would again lead the Shas party.

“I’ve returned home,” reads Yedioth Ahronoth’s front page, quoting a jubilant Deri. The paper reports that Deri buried the hatchet with long-time rival and Shas leader Eli Yishai, and the two agreed to split the party leadership with Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias. For the time being there will be no Shas chairman, and the triumvirate will lead the party until after the elections.

According to Yedioth, Deri will be tasked with managing the party and coalition negotiations and controlling party appointments, and will receive the party’s second ministerial post. Yishai will set party policy, represent Shas in the cabinet, and will fill the party’s most senior ministerial position.

The role of Atias, who helped forge the union between Deri and Yishai, remains unclear.

Nonetheless, Maariv contends that Atias is the real winner in the deal. Its argues that whereas Deri and Yishai were forced to compromise their positions, Atias was publicly credited by Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef with uniting the party, and his standing in the party was upgraded significantly.

Haaretz also contends that Deri and Yishai are the losers in the arrangement, as they had “no other choice but to take this complex deal.”

Maariv also reports that members of the Movement for Quality Government protested outside Ovadia Yosef’s house against the return of Deri to the Shas party. They called on the spiritual leader of the Shas party not to let Deri, who was convicted in 1999 of accepting $155,000 in bribes while running the Interior Ministry and as interior minister, return to the party.

Perhaps in response to reports that Likud party members fear Deri’s deleterious influence on their party’s pull in the coming elections (according to Yedioth), Israel Hayom publishes a full-page commentary on Deri’s return with a headline reading “The death of shame.” Mordechai Gilat writes that for the first time in the state’s history, a “serious serial criminal” has returned to political life. ”There has never been anything like this in the State of Israel,” he writes. “There has never been a precedent for this in Israeli politics.”

“From this morning hence we are akin to Italy, to Sicily, to Palermo, courtesy of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef,” Gilat rails in protest of what he regards as mafia-like corruption in Israeli politics represented by Deri’s return to politics, and perhaps the government.

Only after Gilat’s rant against the Shas party and everything Deri stands for does Israel Hayom (on Page 5) report on the “historic reconciliation” between Deri and Yishai. It quotes Deri saying, “I [recite the prayer for new beginnings]; we did the unbelievable. From tomorrow it’s a general draft [of all forces] for the elections.”

In Haaretz, Israel Harel takes a stab at Deri when referring to the latest batch of “rotten apples” returning to the political fold. He calls Deri “[former prime minister Ehud] Olmert’s parallel in subversion, intrigue and false steps.”

He adds that “the Deri case strengthens the belief of many in Israel that in Shas there are no innocents; that for all the verses touting morality and justice they can quote voluminously and correctly, when it comes to personal integrity they simply cannot tell the difference between right and wrong, between what’s permitted and what’s forbidden.”

Political cartoonists also have a field day with the Shas reconciliation move. Haaretz’s doodle shows Rabbi Ovadia Yosef placing an eager looking Deri atop a weak-kneed and frowning Yishai’s shoulders.

Photograph of Haaretz's political cartoon from October 18.

Photograph of Haaretz’s political cartoon from October 18.

Maariv shows Ovadia Yosef manipulating Yishai and Deri finger puppets into reconciliation.

Photograph of Maariv's political cartoon from October 18.

Photograph of Maariv’s political cartoon from October 18.

Polls, Likud, and Dagan

Haaretz publishes yet another weekly election poll littered with graphs and charts. The paper’s oracle predicts that if former prime minister Ehud Olmert, former Kadima chair Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid, and Shaul Mofaz’s Kadima party join forces, and Aryeh Deri leads Shas, the mega center-left party could win 25 seats in the upcoming January 22 election, and Likud would only win 24. Even in this situation, however, the Likud-religious bloc would still be able to form a 63-seat majority.

Haaretz’s Yossi Verter concedes that the poll question is “a hypothetical” and a “giant hypothetical” at that. If elections were held today, with the given political topography, the poll indicated that Likud would rake in 29 seats, Labor would win 20, Kadima 8, Yesh Atid 11, and Shas 11.

Whatever the outcome may be for the Likud party, resigning Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon won’t be part of it. The press features photos of excited Likud Central Committee members greeting the popular minister at the party convention in Tel Aviv Wednesday night. Maariv reports that party members chanted “Moshe king of Israel,” and “stay, stay, stay.” Kahlon announced his resignation from politics earlier this week.

Reporting on the Central Committee congress, Haaretz writes that the party membership “does not look like the committee of a victorious party. The average age of members was in the 50s or 60s. The only youth were the ministers’ bodyguards and Moshe Feiglin supporters.”

Yedioth Ahronoth devotes a page to the curious case of ex-Mossad boss Meir Dagan’s liver transplant. The paper reports that Dagan remains hospitalized, anesthetized, and on a ventilator in Minsk, Belarus, and that his condition was stable and improving. It nonetheless says that Dagan “was still fighting for his life.”