With elections called, the long-simmering issue of former Shas leader Arye Deri’s possible return to the party boiled over on Wednesday.

Speculation swirled around possible permutations to the faction if he returned, following Channel 2’s Tuesday report that Deri was set to become party chairman once more, while current chairman Eli Yishai would keep his position as the most senior Shas minister in any future coalition.

However, a party source told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that the report was inaccurate and that “nothing has been decided” as to who would lead the party into the elections.

The source also warned that numerous Shas “insiders” would put out differing possible outcomes of the party’s labyrinthine internal struggles to the media, to try to spin the issue for the interests of their particular associates.

He conceded, however, that “all possibilities are open” and that Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who holds ultimate sway over the faction, would make the decision, most likely within the next 10 days.

Haredi news website Kikar Hashabbat claimed on Wednesday night that Deri had already agreed to return to the party, with a decision on who would formally lead the party expected next week.

A separate Shas insider close to Yosef told the Post that the different reports most likely originated with Deri’s camp as part of a message indicating he was prepared to return to Shas even if the leadership were split and he were not the political faction’s outright leader.

He also reiterated that there had been no decision yet and that such a decision would come from Yosef and the Council of Torah Sages, the rabbinical body the Shas spiritual leader leads that deliberates on party policy.

Back in May, when elections were nearly called before a last minute national unity deal between Likud and Kadima, Deri was reported as being on the verge of forming his own political party. His associate repeated similar comments last week, and Channel 10 reported on Wednesday night that Deri had in mind several prominent public figures from different fields if efforts to return to Shas failed.

Yosef promised Deri in 1999 that he would return to the post of leader after his stint in prison. Deri, who founded Shas in 1984, 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.

According to the source close to Yosef, the decision over the Shas leadership will be made not according to who is likely to gain the most Knesset seats in the coming election, but on the basis of perceived loyalty to the spiritual leader and the Council of Torah Sages.

“Eli [Yishai] listens and adheres to the opinions and decisions of the rabbis,” he said, “perhaps more so than Aryeh.”

He added that Yosef “holds much esteem for Eli, he loves him dearly and he is his right hand.”

In his opinion, the source said, a return to the party on Deri’s part would not damage Yishai’s current position.

Separately Yishai said on Wednesday that he would have no problem joining a coalition with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.

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