The ultra-Orthodox Shas party awoke to a new reality on Thursday, a day after a compromise deal was reached that will see the party run for the Knesset under the shared triple leadership of current Chairman Eli Yishai, returning founder Aryeh Deri and senior minister Ariel Atias.
While Shas political leaders are publicly portraying an image of unity, discordant voices are being heard behind the scenes.
Yishai said on Thursday said that his interest was that Shas' electoral strength will benefit from the deal.
"Shas is on an upward trend," Yishai said. "In the public opinion polls, we never received more than 10 mandates, we always had 7-8. With the addition of Deri, we will be stronger. We hope to surpass 15 mandates. We've always been taught to go with the way of the Torah. Peace and unity are accepted naturally. I am happy with the unity."
Despite the talk of unity, however, associates of Yishai spoke out on Thursday against Deri's return to politics. Deri supporters also threw cold water on any warm feelings of unity produced by the compromise deal.
Yishai, Deri and Atias held their first meeting on Thursday night at the Jerusalem home of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Earlier, Yishai and Deri presented a united front in a joint interview on Channel 2.
"What happened in the past cannot be hidden, but we've turned over a new leaf," Deri said. "We gave in because [Yosef] asked us to and because the public wanted unity. It is true that this is not so customary in politics, but it is an honor, not a shame, to be someone who knows how to bow before his rabbi. It is difficult to work together after 12 years, but we will get over it. There are no winners or losers here. We are embarking on a new path."
Yishai expressed similar sentiments. "We will overcome everything and we will know how to work together," Yishai said. "We saw what was good for the people of Israel, we knew how to overcome, to unite and to come together. What we did was important and we saw that [Yosef] was happy. [Deri] has capabilities and much experience. [Our] combined efforts will bring remarkable achievements."
Deri talked about the party's message on social issues, saying Shas represents Israel's lower economic classes.
"There are two countries here, a country of haves and a country of have-nots," Deri said. "We represent the country of have-nots."
On the issue of returning to politics after being convicted of a criminal offense, Deri said that "in a democratic country, there is the law. The law allows me to run and now the public will decide if I am deserving or not. Let the public decide and whatever choice it makes is acceptable."
Atias, who served as a mediator between Yishai and Deri recently, acknowledged that the new situation was tough for Yishai, but minimized the importance of who holds the party's political leadership role.
"In any case, it doesn't matter who the chairman is, he does not do what he wants," Atias said. "Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is always above the chairman and it is [Yosef] who decides."
Some Shas MKs expressed concern that the new leadership situation will cause an inefficient and disorderly work model within the party.
"We who sit in the Knesset need to receive instructions on how to vote," said one veteran Shas MK. "Often there are pressing things on which immediate decisions need to be made and not everything goes to Rabbi Yosef. Until today, we called Yishai, but what now? Who will we call, three people? Who will we work with? It's going to be a mess."
A number of Shas MKs have also been told by constituents that Deri's return will harm the party.
"We've received more than a few letters from voters who said they supported Shas because it was a right-wing party, and now, with Deri, who supported the Oslo Accords, they won't vote for us," the MKs said. "Also, the talk about Deri having served in prison is not good for us. We hope that [the compromise deal] will pay off in reality."