Shas Party leader Arye Deri has spoken very candidly about how he nearly decided to quit the Knesset when his party declined to join Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government.
The 62-year-old politician was the Knesset’s youngest MK when he first joined it in 1992. He admitted that marathon sessions that last all night and issuing parliamentary inquiries to ministers who have nowhere near his experience in government was not his cup of tea.
So the proposed plea agreement with Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit by which Deri would resign from the Knesset and admit to mild tax offenses to get out of jail sounds like a sweetheart deal.
Deri would get to remain chairman of Shas, and he could run for Knesset again in the next Knesset election. Paris-born former MK Yosef Taieb would return to the Knesset in his stead and help Shas win the support of the growing sector of French immigrants.
There were mixed signals from the Justice Ministry but indications were that the leaked deal might be in the cards, perhaps with some stiffer conditions. The deadline for finalizing the agreement is January 31, when Mandelblit will finish his term.
Shouldn’t Deri be jumping at the chance to get it done?
The answer is not necessarily, based on criteria related to the past, present and future.
Deri must first consider the past. The last time Deri left the Knesset in 1999, he did not return until 2013.
In between, MK Eli Yishai, whom Deri gave the Shas chairmanship as a “deposit,” got comfortable in his chair. Yishai refused the leave after Deri was permitted to return to politics after his prison sentence and cooling-off period.
While none of Shas’s current MKs has Deri’s star power, Yishai had none of his charisma and almost prevented his comeback.
In the present, Deri is one of the opposition’s most strategic weapons. He is the architect of a deal between Likud and the Joint List that has resulted in most of the coalition’s political defeats in the Knesset plenum.
Without Deri’s political experience, acumen and credibility, it will be harder for the opposition to keep scoring points. It will also be more difficult to stop the government from advancing key maneuvers on matters of religion and state.
Lastly, there is the future. The plea deal would let Deri become a minister in the next Knesset.
But what about the current one? No, there is no chance of Shas entering the government under Bennett or Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
Then again, before Lapid would take over in August 2023, the Likud could try to form a government in the current Knesset with a different leader.
That increasingly likely scenario would leave Deri on the outside looking in, as someone else from his party could inherit his cherished Interior Ministry.
For those reasons, Deri will need to proceed cautiously before signing on the dotted line.