Jerusalem Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced today that he would not run in an election for premier until the parliament agrees to go to the voters as well.
Israel's parliament, the Knesset, voted today against dispersing itself, 68-48. The lawmakers approved another bill to permit Netanyahu to run, since 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 today. 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 disperses itself in the coming months. Lawmakers from both sides of the political spectrum warned Monday that whoever becomes premier will have a tough task working with the existing, fractious Knesset.
The law allowing Netanyahu to run bypassed another law requiring candidates to be members of parliament. Netanyahu resigned his seat after he was trounced in elections 19 months ago by Barak.
Polls show Netanyahu far out in front of Barak, while Sharon is running even with Barak.
There were calls for Netanyahu to reconsider. With his announcement, the Likud canceled primary elections set for today that had pitted Netanyahu against Sharon, who replaced him as Likud leader after last year's election.
The main issue in the elections was expected to be nearly three months of Israel-Palestinian violence that followed a stalemate in peace efforts.
Barak is hoping to clinch a peace deal with the Palestinians in the next month. He could then present it as a referendum on his policies.
Likud leaders have harshly criticized Barak's compromise offers to the Palestinians. Barak's hawkish coalition partners walked out over the concessions last July, though they did not produce a peace agreement. Barak has lost more support because of the violence.