JERUSALEM — Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Ttoday that he would not run in an election for prime minister until the parliament agrees to go to the voters as well.
Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, voted earlier today against dissolving itself, 68-48. The lawmakers approved another bill to permit Netanyahu to run. The bill was necessary because he is not a Knesset member.
But the former prime minister insisted he would not take up the challenge without general elections as well.
"Because the Knesset didn’t have the courage to answer the will of the public and put itself up for new elections, I decided to fulfill my promise," Netanyahu said in a statement. "I will consider running once the Knesset disperses itself."
The decision meant Prime Minister Ehud Barak will face the leader of the opposition Likud party, Ariel Sharon, in Feb. 6 elections. Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres is seriously considering running as well, Israel radio reported Tuesday. The winner will form a coalition in the Knesset as its makeup stands now.
Netanyahu could re-enter the political scene if the Knesset — where Barak does not have a majority — dissolves itself in the coming months. Lawmakers from both sides of the political spectrum warned Monday that whoever becomes prime minister will have a tough task working with the existing, fractious Knesset.
Meanwhile, President Clinton said Monday that Israel and the Palestinians are "re-engaging" in peace talks, and he will try to help them reach a settlement.
The two sides, not the United States, will set the timetable for negotiations, but the Clinton administration is providing veteran mediators Dennis Ross and Aaron Miller for the talks today in Washington, officials said.
It could be a last chance for the Clinton administration to guide Israel and the Palestinians into an agreement before the president’s term ends in less than five weeks.
At the outset, U.S. mediators will meet separately today with a Palestinian delegation and an Israeli group. Three-way meetings are probable afterward, but it was not clear whether Clinton or Secretary of State Madeleine Albright would sit in.
The likely location is Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. But the State Department, traditionally secret even about logistics, would not say.
Separately, the Palestinian demand for a U.N. observer force in the West Bank and Gaza was defeated in the Security Council Monday when the United States, Russia and other key countries abstained, arguing it could jeopardize upcoming Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Palestinian supporters on the 15-member council demanded a vote, knowing in advance they faced almost certain defeat or a U.S. veto.
In the end, the United States didn’t have to exercise its veto rights because the resolution failed to muster the minimum nine "yes" votes in the council.
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