Israel's Netanyahu appears headed toward 5th term as PM

Left Retired Israeli general Benny Gantz right Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

The 69-year-old prime minister's fate is clouded by a series of corruption investigations.

The Blue and White alliance is a coalition of Benny Gantz's Israel Resilience party and Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid.

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.

The results would seem to leave President Reuven Rivlin, whose task it is to ask one of the candidates to form a government, with little choice but to pick Netanyahu. With intensive negotiations to form a ruling coalition now underway, he's likely to demand that his future partners in government stand by him as he fights his way through the courts.

Official results are expected later Wednesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing right-wing Likud Party appeared nearly neck and neck with his main centrist rival for seats in parliament on election day, varying exit polls indicated.

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.

Both parties would, in any case, fall far short of a majority and be forced to form a coalition. Netanyahu celebrated his projected win Tuesday night with scores of supporters who were waving President Trump flags, aware of their longtime friendship.

"He's a magician!" the crowd chanted as fireworks flared and Netanyahu kissed his wife Sara.

He said that while his potential coalition would be a right-wing government, he pledged he would be "prime minister for all".

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Most of the votes have been counted and the two main parties - Likud and Blue and White - are virtually tied for seats in the parliament. But this race truly saw him fighting for his political life.

He engaged in populist rhetoric that critics said amounted to the demonisation of Arab Israelis and others. The last time he feared losing an election, he warned of Israeli Arab voters heading to polling stations "in droves"; this time, his party Likud placed hidden cameras in polling stations in Arab communities, their purported concerns about "voting fraud" looking more like voter suppression.

He was deeply disturbed by Trump's supposed role in Netanyahu's re-election, citing recent policy decisions such as moving the USA embassy to Jerusalem, and declaring Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

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.

It is a move long-sought by Israel's far-right.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main challenger Benny Gantz both claimed victory in Israel's election on Tuesday. But some analysts believe that Washington's relatively less controversial Golan Heights recognition may have paved the way. That would mean a five-seat gain for Likud.

By 8:00pm (1700 GMT), overall turnout was 61.3 per cent compared to 62.4 per cent at the same time in 2015 elections.

"We are the victors", Gantz said.

He has been premier for a total of more than 13 years. The prime minister even approved a billboard in Tel Aviv showing himself shaking hands with the president in order to tout their close relationship.

The Attorney General has called him for one final hearing before he decides whether or not to bring charges.

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