Polar opposites: Gantz wins Netanyahu's hometown, Netanyahu wins Gantz's

Polar opposites: Gantz wins Netanyahu's hometown, Netanyahu wins Gantz's

Polar opposites: Gantz wins Netanyahu's hometown, Netanyahu wins Gantz's

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on track for victory in Israel's election on Wednesday after almost complete results put him in position to form a right-wing coalition and further extend his long tenure in office.

With more than 97 percent of votes counted, Netanyahu's conservative Likud party looked likely to muster enough support to control 65 of the Knesset's 120 seats and be named to head the next coalition government.

It would be Mr Netanyahu's record fifth term as Prime Minister.

With US President Donald Trump's administration providing unprecedented support, as well as diplomatic breakthroughs in Africa and improving relations with Gulf Arab states, Gold said Netanyahu had improved Israel's standing in the world without having to give away much in exchange. "He's been a great ally and he's a friend".

Israel's Blue and White party leaders have conceded defeat in Israel's election, saying they will work against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the opposition.

Netanyahu's message of unity contrasted with his campaign theme in which he accused Gantz of conspiring with Arab parties to topple him.

Israel's attorney general has recommended charging Netanyahu with bribery, breach of trust and fraud.

Netanyahu also received a boost from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who one week before the election surprised Israelis by returning the remains of Zechariah Baumel, a staff sergeant in the Israeli Army whose remains had been missing for 37 years after he was killed during the Lebanon War.

"It is a night of colossal victory", Mr Netanyahu, 69, told cheering supporters in a late-night speech at Likud headquarters.

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"He's a magician!", the crowd chanted.

Prime Minster of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara greet supporters. Legal experts expect at least some charges to be filed. The hearing is expected to take place in July and the decision on the final indictment will come some six months later.

"Generally speaking, pre-election polls in Israel have recently turned from a means of understanding the current situation into a tool for agitation".

Netanyahu highlighted his close relationship with Trump, who delighted Israelis and angered Palestinians by recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 2017 and moving the American Embassy to the holy city last May.

Then, two days before the election, in a seeming bid to steal votes from other right-wing parties, Netanyahu controversially pledged to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank.

And with peace and security dominating the race, Netanyahu had a formidable record on which to run: isolation of the Palestinian Authority, containment of the Hamas threat in Gaza and growing alliances, once unthinkable, with Arab states.

A team led by Mr Trump's adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner has been working on an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, but they have not disclosed details. The President can see the picture and should call on the victor to form the next government. Gantz was able to challenge Netanyahu on security issues, normally the prime minister's strong suit, while also taking aim at his alleged ethical lapses.

In a shock development, the New Right party, led by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, appeared to have failed to cross the electoral threshold of 3.25%, garnering just 3.14% of the vote, thought it held out hopes that soldiers' votes could lift it above the threshold; those final votes should be tallied by early Thursday morning.

"The party that gains more votes in a closed voting will receive a mandate to form a government", Spivak said.

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