The saga of Arye Deri’s long battle to return to the party he founded concluded Wednesday night when the Council of Torah Sages of the Shas movement, led by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, decided to bring him back into the fold.

The big decision of who will actually lead the party was ducked, however, with Shas spiritual leader Yosef – who holds ultimate authority in the movement – deciding to name the party chairman after the elections.

The party chairmanship has therefore been temporarily suspended, and a triumvirate leadership of Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias, Deri and current party chair and Interior Minister Eli Yishai will take the party into the elections, with Deri heading the election campaign.

Yishai will be placed first in the Shas electoral list, Deri will be second and Yishai will likely take the most senior ministerial position allocated to the party in the next government, should Shas join a governing coalition after the elections.

Deri and Yishai met face to face at Yosef’s house in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood at around 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, with the members of the Council of Torah Sages arriving some time afterwards to rubber stamp the deal.

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Speaking to the media after their meeting, both politicians presented a united front of party harmony. Deri declared that everyone had won through the compromise deal and vowed that no arguments would be heard coming out of the party from here on in.

Yishai welcomed Deri back, saying that he had “come home” and that his return would mean an increase in the number of seats the party gains in the coming elections, and that the broader public would benefit as well.

“Where there is unity there is blessing, and Shas will be as one person with one heart,” Yishai said.

According to sources close to the housing minister, Yosef asked Attias last week to broker a deal between Deri and Yishai in order to bring a semblance of unity back to the party.

Despite the agreement, Shas insiders believe it will be hard for Yishai and Deri to work together, with Deri’s political cunning and charisma likely to overshadow the more staid character of the present interior minister.

Deri served 22 months of a three-year jail term from 2000 to 2002 for accepting bribes from the Lev Banim Yeshiva during his tenure as director-general of the Interior Ministry and then as interior minister.

Anyone convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude – as Deri was – is banned from running for Knesset for a period of seven years following their release from prison. The coming elections are therefore the first for which Deri is able to run since his release, despite unsuccessful attempts that were made for him to run in the 2009 elections.

Earlier on Wednesday, a contingent of activists from the Movement for Quality Government in Israel gathered outside Yosef’s home, calling on him via megaphone to bar from returning to the party in light of his past criminal convictions.

The presence of the approximately 20 protesters angered the crowd of Shas supporters gathered outside the rabbi’s house and led to angry confrontations between the two sides before the police intervened.

Haim Amsalem, a former Shas MK who has set up an opposition party – Am Shalem – to compete with Shas for the Sephardi vote, said in response that Deri’s return disgraced the party.

“Shas has shamed and embarrassed the Sephardi public... this is a desecration of God’s name.

The first party that has put a convicted criminal into its leadership is a haredi party,” Amsalem noted.

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