Netanyahu on clearer path to victory in close Israel vote: exit polls

Netanyahu on clearer path to victory in close Israel vote: exit polls

Netanyahu faced a fierce challenge from Blue and White, a new party led by former Israel Defence Forces chief of staff Benny Gantz.

But the party and its traditional right-wing political allies will likely be the most powerful bloc and are set to win 65 seats in the 120-seat Knesset - the Israeli parliament. Arab leaders accused Netanyahu of demonizing the country's Arab community, which makes up about 20 percent of the population.

Netanyahu had fought a tight race against centrist ex-army chief Benny Gantz.

The final results will depend on the performance of several small parties, including the Arab Balad party and the ultranationalist "New Right, " that were on the cusp of entering parliament.

This is because Mr Netanyahu has more allies and is in a stronger position to form a coalition government with other right-wing factions that have backed him. Official final results were expected Thursday. The trend has accelerated since Donald Trump became US President.

Diana Buttu, a Palestinian Haifa-based analyst and former legal adviser to Palestinian peace negotiators, told Al Jazeera that Netanyahu's renewed mandate will allow him to continue his "policies of apartheid, colonisation, and racism".

Netanyahu said on Saturday that he would annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank if he won another term in office. "The fact is that it will be very hard for the Kachol Lavan party (the Blue and White, named after the colors of the Israeli flag), the only clear slogan of which was "We are ready for anything, but not with Netanyahu", to abandon its beliefs and make an alliance with Netanyahu".

Under Netanyahu's watch, Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moved the US Embassy there, withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran, endorsed Israeli control of the Golan Heights and officially designated Tehran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to his supporters after polls for Israel's general elections closed in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Wednesday.

More news: OPEC Sees Tighter 2019 Market As Nigeria, Others Defy Cuts

"It is a night of colossal victory", the 69-year-old Netanyahu told cheering supporters in a late-night speech at Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv after Tuesday's vote.

Despite a low voter turnout among Israeli Palestinians, the Arab lists of Hadash-Ta'al and Balad-Ra'am passed the threshold gaining six and four seats respectively.

"The skies may look overcast.but they can not hide the sun of hope that we have brought to the Israeli people and society", Gantz, 59, wrote in an open letter to supporters.

But Gantz and Netanyahu may not be as different as they wanted voters to think.

Pending an upcoming hearing, the Israeli attorney general says he plans to indict Netanyahu on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges.

Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza are not Israeli citizens and can not vote. Center-right Yisrael Beiteinu and religious-right Union of Right-Wing Parties won five seats each. As disruptive as the break-up of the party landscape and the large number of internal conflicts in Israeli society have been, one thing remains true: Israel is - with the possible exception of Tunisia - the only democracy in the region whose election results are not suspect.

Should the corruption scandal hanging over Netanyahu cause him to stumble in the coming weeks, the right-wing nationalist camp may nonetheless consider itself victorious in these elections.

The vote had always been expected to be close, even with Netanyahu facing potential corruption charges.

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