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Israel’s ex-PM Olmert considering comeback, aides say

JERUSALEM — Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli prime minister, is considering a political comeback to challenge incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming elections, aides said Wednesday.

With new parliamentary polls set for early 2013, Olmert is considered the candidate with the best chance of unseating Netanyahu at the ballot box, despite a precarious legal situation that may stand in his way if he gets elected.

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Olmert was recently cleared of the most serious of several bribery allegations that forced him out of office in 2009 but is still bogged down in a separate bribery trial that leaves his political future in doubt.

Olmert was deeply unpopular while in office, but he has enjoyed a revival in recent months, with many fearing he was unfairly removed from office for allegations that ultimately did not stand up in court. Commentators have also lamented the breakdown in Middle East peace efforts under Netanyahu and wondered whether Olmert, who conducted more than a year of intense negotiations with the Palestinians, might have delivered an agreement if he had not been driven from power.

‘‘I can tell you that he is pondering it and the political system is putting a lot of pressure on him,’’ his former Cabinet secretary and confidant Yisrael Maimon told Israel’s Army Radio station.

With Netanyahu’s hawkish Likud party far ahead in the polls, Israel’s centrist and leftist parties are desperate for a candidate who can unite the fragmented and leaderless opposition parties under an umbrella that can mount a serious challenge.

Analysts predict Olmert is the only candidate who could prevent Netanyahu from a sweeping reelection. Since he stepped down, his Kadima Party has seen its public support evaporate under new leader Shaul Mofaz.

If Olmert jumps back into politics, it is unclear if he will rejoin Kadima or a new political constellation. Kadima lawmaker Dalia Itzik said she hopes Olmert retakes Kadima, with Mofaz’s acquiescence.

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