Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu Projected To Win Elections

An Israeli Arab man walks past an electoral billboard bearing portraits of Blue and White political alliance leaders Moshe Yaalon Benny Gantz Yair Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and challenger Benny Gantz have both claimed victory in the election after exit polls predicted a parliamentary majority for rightist parties under the incumbent but a big showing for Gantz's party.

Netanyahu spoke later and declared himself the victor of a fifth term in office.

Netanyahu's Likud party and Gantz's Blue and White alliance each appear to have secured 35 seats. But Mr Netanyahu will no longer be able to fend off pressure by citing United States opposition.

Benjamin Netanyahu will become Israel's prime minister again, if all the indications are right.

"Netanyahu gathered all of the extremists and cannibalized his partners", Gantz continued. The president was on a flight to Texas. Last month President Donald Trump hosted Netanyahu at the White House, playing off of the fact that Trump is very popular in Israel (his approval rating previous year was 69 percent, a boost fueled at least in part by Trump's decision to move America's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem).

"He's a great ally and he's a friend", Trump acknowledged outside the White House Wednesday. "I'd like to congratulate him on a well-thought-out race".

"The fact that Bibi won, I think we'll see some pretty good action in terms of peace", he said.

He faces possible indictment in three graft cases, and has denied wrongdoing in all three.

No party has ever won an outright majority meaning coalitions are the norm.

Netanyahu has already claimed victory, telling cheering supporters Tuesday night that "the right-wing bloc led by the Likud won a clear victory".

Fireworks flared behind him as his wife Sara applauded and kissed him.

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. The prime minister even approved a billboard in Tel Aviv showing himself shaking hands with the president in order to tout their close relationship.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday did not offer a decisive answer to a question from Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md), member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee, as to whether or not the USA administration still supports a Palestinian state after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pledged to impose Israeli sovereignty on the Jewish settlements of Judea and Samaria. Some of his allies have indicated they will no longer back him if formal charges are filed.

During the campaign, the rival parties accused each other of corruption, fostering bigotry and being soft on security. But as the night went on, there were growing signs that Netanyahu's Likud was pulling ahead.

Israel's 21 per cent Arab minority saw its parties lose seats. This on top of earlier Trump decisions to switch the USA embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal. On a visit to Washington, Donald Trump signed a proclamation recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, in defiance of overwhelming global consensus.

Mr Trump has enthusiastically backed Mr Netanyahu, making controversial gestures of support to the hawkish leader, including recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the occupied Golan Heights area.

"Israelis have voted to preserve the status quo". In December, when these elections were called, 73% of voters said they wanted a right or centre-right government. Israel's politics have moved firmly to the right, with many voters disillusioned by failed peace attempts with the Palestinians.

The Trump administration has been promising for many months that it would roll out a Middle East peace plan after Israel's election. If it includes Israeli concessions to the Palestinians, Netanyahu's probable far-right coalition allies will likely object.

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