Despite recent reports, Shas insiders are hopeful that former party leader Arye Deri will return to the party for the next general election and not form a separate one.

Channel 2 reported on Monday that, according to associates of Deri, Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef offered Deri the third spot on the Shas electoral list after current party chairman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias.

According to senior Shas figures, Deri refused and demanded the top spot and the senior ministerial position.

Were Deri to establish his own party, Yosef would come out against him publicly, the sources were quoted as saying.

Sources close to Deri are claiming that since one of the main issues in the next election will be that of religion and state at a time of religious and secular tensions, Deri could be a popular moderating figure at the head of a party to bridge these divides, an option he prefers to playing second fiddle to Yishai.

According to former Shas spokesman Itzik Sudri, however, the likelihood of Deri splitting off and forming a separate haredi Sephardi party is slim.

“We need to consolidate our power, not see it dispersed,” Sudri told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. “That is what Rabbi Ovadia is working toward, but at the moment, before elections have been announced, everything being said is merely speculation.”

He added that although many see a Deri return to Shas alongside Yishai as an unobtainable dream, the possibility of such an outcome nevertheless exists.

“Deri is a first-rate leader, and it would be a shame to waste his talents. During this difficult time for the haredi community, it would be good to see him back in a leadership position,” Sudri said.

On Monday, Yishai called on Deri to return to Shas during a meeting of the Knesset faction, telling the press that he belonged with Shas.

Asked what the likely outcome would be, Yishai said simply that it was Yosef and the party’s Council of Torah Sages who made the decisions.

“It's true, we always do what the rabbi says,” Yishai said when challenged that this was his stock answer for difficult questions.

Deri served 22 months of a three-year jail term from 2000-2002 for accepting $155,000 in bribes during his tenure as Interior Ministry director-general and then as interior minister.

Renegade Shas MK Haim Amsalem told Army Radio on Monday that in his opinion it was extremely unlikely that Deri would form his own party, and noises being made about such an eventuality were merely a way of threatening Shas.

“Rabbi Ovadia promised Deri that he would return to lead the party when his period of exclusion from politics was over,” Amsalem said.

“Everyone knows the game here, and everyone knows that Deri is not going to establish his own party. He’s done everything not to anger Rabbi Ovadia or Shas so that they’ll call him back for what was promised to him.”

He speculated that “if the polls ahead of an election show that Shas will not pick up the right amount of seats, and everyone runs to Rabbi Ovadia and says, ‘Only Arye can save us,’ in a situation like this it will be easier for Deri to return.”

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.

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