Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looked likely to remain in the job after his Likud party clearly won the most seats in Israel's election. The international reaction has been mixed.
As election results on Wednesday confirmed the right wing Likud party as having won the most seats in the Knesset, the European Union responded with an appeal to re-launch the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.
"The EU is committed to working with the incoming Israeli government on a mutually beneficial relationship as well as on the re-launch of the peace process," the 28-nation bloc's foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement issued to congratulate Netanyahu on his victory.
With more than 99 percent of the votes counted, Likud had won 29-30 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, with the Zionist Union coming in second with 24 seats and a grouping of the main Arab parties coming third with 14 seats. The results defied earlier predictions of a Zionist Union win and came after a last-minute campaigning push by Netanyahu in which he said he now opposed the creation of a Palestinian state - a key goal of the international community. Netanyahu also vowed to keep building controversial settlements on land the Palestinians want for a future state.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union party, who in his campaign had pledged to resume talks with the Palestinians, conceded defeat earlier Wednesday.
Palestinian leaders expressed disappointment with the results, saying it meant they must press forward with their own steps towards independence, with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat pledging to "speed up, pursue and intensify" all diplomatic efforts.
"Israel chose the path of racism, occupation and settlement building, and did not choose the path of negotiations and partnership between us," senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Yasser Abed told news agency AFP.
A United States-brokered peace process between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed a year ago. Since then, thousands of people have been killed in a war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza as well as stabbing attacks across Israel. Ties between Israel's leadership and the United States have become increasingly strained and the Palestinians were preparing to pursue war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court.
Under Israeli rules, after final election results the President Reuven Rivlin has seven days to give one of the party leaders – almost certainly Netanyahu – the first chance to form the next government. The party leader who can build a coalition with a majority of at least 61 seats in parliament becomes prime minister. Former Likud member Moshe Kahlon's center-right Kulanu party, which won 10 seats, is expected to play the role of kingmaker.
se/bw (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)