Israel's right-wing Likud opposition party is due to decide Thursday if former leader Benjamin Netanyahu can stand as its candidate in a snap election for prime minister, as he is currently barred from running.
Netanyahu is facing a race against time in his bid to return to power after caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Barak's sudden resignation Sunday, which forced a special election to choose an Israeli leader due to be held in February.
The former prime minister, who quit politics after his crushing defeat at the hands of Barak in May 1999, has launched a comeback, but his ambitions may stymied as only sitting MPs are entitled to run in the leadership race.
Likud has set December 19 as the date for primaries in what is widely billed to be a head-to-head clash between Netanyahu and his less popular successor as party leader, Ariel Sharon.
But in the meantime, the chairman of Likud's electoral committee, retired judge Yossi Strausman, is due to decide Thursday whether Netanyahu can be party leader if he is ineligible to run for prime minister.
Netanyahu, the clear favorite in opinion polls, was given a boost on Wednesday when parliament backed on preliminary reading a controversial bill to change Israel's electoral law and allow all Israeli citizens to run for premier.
However, he has said he would prefer that parliament dissolve itself and hold new elections, which would clear the way for him to run for prime minister.
Likud is the second largest party in Israel's fragmented parliament, with 19 seats -- JERUSALEM (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )