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Shas Leader Reverses Position, Saying He’s Ready to Stand Trial

In a dramatic reversal, Aryeh Deri, head of Israel’s Shas party, has announced he is ready to stand trial on fraud charges.

Deri, who stepped down last week as interior minister, even said he would encourage the Knesset House Committee, which meets Sunday, to waive his parliamentary immunity so that he can be prosecuted.

He explained Wednesday that he had decided on the move to refute allegations that he had convinced his party to vote against the government’s historic accord with the Palestinians as a way of pressuring the government not to lift his immunity.

“I have no longer any interest in the Knesset immunity,” he told reporters. “I will prove my innocence in court.”

But political pundits suggested that the real reason for Deri’s move was that he had concluded that the House Committee would lift his immunity sooner or later anyway. This way he could remain on the offensive, instead of being dragged unwillingly to court.

Deri’s party of fervently Orthodox Sephardic Jews had vowed to quit the governing coalition after the High Court of Justice forced him to resign as interior minister, in the face of the charges against him.

But Shas has not done so yet, and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was working Wednesday to convince the party to support the accord with the Palestinians or at least abstain during the Knesset vote, which was expected to take place Thursday.

Meanwhile, Deri’s immunity is likely to be removed shortly after the Sukkot holiday, and a trial date will likely be set soon thereafter.

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