Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to secure a fifth term, according to partial electoral results. His Likud and rival Blue and White are neck and neck, but the right-wing bloc is ahead of the left.
The latest electoral count in Israel's parliamentary elections on Tuesday showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party leading the vote in a tight race that exit polling had deemed too close to call. Netanyahu faced a stiff challenge from ex-military chief Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party.
Whichever party wins the most seats, will be certain to need coalition allies to gain a majority in Israel's 120-seat parliament.
What we know so far
Both parties claim win
Blue and White leader Gantz and his number two Yair Lapid were quick to release a statement saying: "We won! The Israeli public has had their say! Thank you to the thousands of activists and over a million voters. These elections have a clear winner and a clear loser."
Netanyahu also claimed his party had won. "The right-wing bloc led by Likud won a clear victory. I thank the citizens of Israel for their trust," he said. I will begin forming a right-wing government with our natural partners tonight."
Under Israel's electoral system with proportional representation, no single party has ever won an outright majority in the Knesset.
The opposition: Ex-military chief Benny Gantz is the leader of the new centrist Blue and White party and Netanyahu's biggest threat in the elections. Gantz campaigned using his military credentials and promised to undo damage that he says Netanyahu inflicted on the country with his divisive politics. He has also spoken in favor of a peace agreement while maintaining Jerusalem as Israel's capital and retaining the settlement blocs.
Netanyahu and Likud: Netanyahu has been in power for 13 years. In an attempt to gain the appeal of the right, he made a deeply controversial pledge to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank if he was re-elected. Palestinians want a state in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Netanyahu has built a reputation as guarantor of the country's security and economic growth, but his alleged corruption has potentially lost him voters.
Netanyahu's Trump boost
The Israeli prime minister has always maintained strong ties with Washington. On the evening of the election, Trump listed Iran's Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization in what is the first time that Washington has branded part of a foreign government a terrorist group.
It's one of several major US policy switches that were warmly welcomed by Netanyahu, starting when Trump made the controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and announced the US embassy would be moved there from Tel Aviv. He has also recognized Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights.
law,jcg/aw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)