Netanyahu Wakes Up to Victory After Most of Israel's Votes Counted

Netanyahu Wakes Up to Victory After Most of Israel's Votes Counted

Netanyahu Wakes Up to Victory After Most of Israel's Votes Counted

Exit polls in Israel suggest there will be no clear victor in the country's closely fought general election.

Both Netanyahu and former military chief Benny Gantz, leader of the rival Blue and White party, declared victory in speeches to boisterous gatherings of supporters.

Both sides claimed victory in the hours after the voting ended.

With 96 percent of the vote counted, results showed Netanyahu's Likud and other rightwing parties allied to him with between 65 and 67 seats in the 120-seat parliament following Tuesday's election.

The final poll on Friday showed Mr Netanyahu's party was neck and neck with centre-left challenger Benny Gantz, leading by 66 to 54 seats.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said on Twitter he would begin meeting next week with political parties that won parliamentary seats to hear who they support for prime minister. There are clear winners and losers.

Despite both men claiming victory on Tuesday night, a clearer picture emerged by Wednesday morning as the results began streaming in, painting Netanyahu as the victor.

Netanyahu may have a win on his hands, but he now has to form a coalition government.

Pending an upcoming hearing, the Israeli attorney general says he plans to indict Netanyahu on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges. "We have established a genuine leadership alternative", he said.

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Gantz has emerged victorious in the first exit polls, which survey voters but are not the final result.

- The 59-year-old Gantz touts his military service and accuses Netanyahu of being corrupt and sowing division, but the two hold similar views on security issues and Israel's approach to the Palestinians. "At the moment, he is creating his next coalition". Meanwhile, the incumbent's chief opponent, Benny Gantz's centrist Blue and White party, also looks on the cusp of winning 35 seats.

Israel's president will consult with the leaders of every party that won seats about their preference for prime minister, and will then choose the legislator who he believes has the best chance of putting together a coalition. He also met with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week and thanked him for returning the remains of an Israeli soldier.

"This rotating [premiership] agreement between Gantz and lapid was ruinous and it assured that the ultra-Orthodox will ... recommend Netanyahu".

No one party has ever won a ruling majority in the 120-seat Knesset, and building a parliamentary coalition - which could take weeks - will ultimately determine the victor.

In showcasing his close ties with Mr Trump during the race, Mr Netanyahu sought to tap into the president's popularity among Israelis, who delighted in his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 2017 and the subsequent transfer of the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv.

In a rare turn during the race towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu further alarmed Palestinians by pledging to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if re-elected.

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat lamented that the Israelis voted to maintain "the status quo". We will not back down from our public duty to represent over a million people who asked us for something different.

While admitting that he will not be the one forming a governing coalition, Gantz expressed satisfaction with his party's impressive success at achieving an equal amount of Knesset seats as the Likud, even if he unable to form coalition.

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