Interior minister and current Shas chairman Eli Yishai confirmed Thursday morning that a power-sharing agreement had been reached between him and former party chairman Aryeh Deri, following a ruling by Shas’ spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
“Our goal now is to succeed in the elections and bring home as many mandates as possible,” Yishai told Army Radio. “It was a challenge, but the unification is a grand result that will benefit the entire public. It reflects the will of Rabbi Yosef and all those who wanted to see a united ticket.”
Yishai said Deri, jailed in 2000 for taking bribes, had “paid his debt to society.”
Yishai said that Shas was seeing growth in the polls even before the announcement of Deri’s return and now hopes to reach 18 Knesset seats in the upcoming Jan. 22 elections.
A Haaretz poll released on Thursday showed Shas winning 14 seats, up from its current 11.
Yishai said that Shas’ natural place is at the government table and that he hoped to join a right-wing coalition after the elections. “We are usually aligned with the right. It is important that the right-wing bloc grows,” said Yishai. “In any case we will follow the instructions of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.”
Yosef put an end to days of speculation over the identity of the religious party’s new leader, when he decided Wednesday night that neither current party chairman Yishai, nor returning political powerhouse Deri would be granted sole leadership of the party. Instead, Ovadia decided, leadership would be held jointly by Yishai, Deri and Shas minister Ariel Atias.
Deri’s return to politics after 12 years, during which he spent a two-year stint in prison after being convicted of corruption charges, had threatened to break apart the party.
Deri had initially said he would not return to Shas unless he was granted party leadership and threatened to run at the head of a competing party. Yishai, who replaced Deri as party chairman after he was forced to leave the Knesset, had also said he would not serve under Deri. Both however said they would accept whatever decision Yosef made.
Israeli media reported that Deri and Yishai agreed that neither one will serve as party chairman, but that Yishai will take the first spot on the Shas party list.
Deri will control the budget of the party’s school system and kashrut certification authority, and Yishai will act as the senior Shas minister, Israel Radio reported.
Deri and Yishai will split the chairman responsibilities with current Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias. In the troika division of powers, Deri was expected to manage the coalition negotiations, the school system and municipal issues, and Yishai would attend to governmental and parliamentary matters.
“Today, I have returned home, and I have done so gladly,” Deri said in a press conference at the Jerusalem home of party spiritual leader Yosef Wednesday. “I want to thank Eli Yishai for carrying the burden all these years,” he added.
“Welcome back to the party,” Yishai said. “For years, we have been waiting to be united again. God willing, we will win more mandates now.”