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Netanyahu Bows Out of Race for Prime Minister

Former prime minister Netanyahu forfeited an opportunity to beat the man who turned him out of office in 1999, saying he would not run until parliament dissolved itself and held new elections.

“When it happens, I will be there,” he told reporters yesterday. “When it happens I will seriously consider in a favorable light… the possibility of running again for leadership of the country.”

Netanyahu, 51, withdrew despite pending legislation that would have circumvented Israeli law and allowed him to run despite not being a member of parliament.

That leaves Barak to face likely right-wing rival Ariel Sharon of the Likud Party or the more left-wing Shimon Peres of the Labour Party in the Feb. 6 election.

Sharon, 72, who launched his campaign last week, led Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon and is seen by many Palestinians as a symbol of Israeli “occupation.” It was Sharon’s high-profile visit to a Muslim holy site in Jerusalem that touched off the current uprising three months ago. He is running ahead of Barak in public opinion polls.

Peres, 77, said yesterday he was considering a challenge to Barak but expressed concern that his candidacy could split the left-wing vote.

Arab members of Israel’s parliament met today to choose a candidate for the race.

Barak, 58, who has lost support in parliament and among the public, resigned earlier this month, triggering a special election in which he announced he would run.

The election drama unfolds against the backdrop of faint hopes for peace talks. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met separately with U.S. officials in Washington today in an effort to end the violent three-month uprising in which more than 330 people, mostly Palestinians, have been killed.

Leaders on both sides said expectations for today’s meetings were low.

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