Israel's Netanyahu secures election victory

Israelis will vote in a closely watched general election on Tuesday, seen here as a referendum on Benjamin Netanyahu.

Rival Gantz, a popular 59-year-old former general, had also claimed victory earlier, citing preliminary exit polls published soon after voting ended on Tuesday that showed his party had won more seats than Likud.

Both Netanyahu and Gantz declared victory overnight before the final results came in.

With more than four million votes counted as of 9 a.m., Likud had snagged 26.27% of the vote, or 35 seats in the 120-seat legislature - the party's best result since the 2003 election (when it won 38 seats under Ariel Sharon), and its best under Netanyahu.

"We won! The Israeli public has had their say!"

Ofer Zalzberg, senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, said Likud and Blue and White would have to learn the fate of smaller parties to know whether they had garnered enough support for a coalition.

Mr Netanyahu tweeted: "The right-ring bloc led by Likud triumphed conclusively".

He vowed to change the tone of Israel's divisive political system and "be the prime minister of everyone, not just the ones who voted for me".

He said a right-wing government would lead Israel, but said he would "be prime minister for all".

By the results of yesterdays election, the right-wing parties together would make up 65 seats, and the left-wing/Arab parties together would make up 55 seats.

Netanyahu called his projected victory an "immense feat, nearly inconceivable", saying he and Likud have been "faced with biased media", including a flood of reports in recent weeks about his potential indictment on three separate criminal investigations involving bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

"I gave them a head start", the Netanyahu character. He was ready to confer victory to Netanyahu, congratulating him on Wednesday morning at the White House. Polls opened at 5am BST (7am local time) and will close at 8pm BST (10pm local time), with results expected to trickle in overnight.

By presenting the election as a binary choice between the two main candidates, leftwing parties were decimated, leaving Gantz with few potential coalition partners. The prime minister even approved a billboard in Tel Aviv showing himself shaking hands with the president in order to tout their close relationship.

Netanyahu has an advantage as almost all right-wing parties have declared their support to the Israeli leader, Israeli media reported.

His attacks on the Arab sector fueled calls for a boycott, and appeared to result in relatively low turnout by Arab voters.

"We are the victors", said Gantz, a former military chief fighting his first election.

Benjamin Netanyahu will serve a fifth term as Israel's prime minister after his main rival conceded that he had lost the election.

On social media, Netanyahu pounded out alerts which included unproved accusations that Iran could blackmail Gantz after hacking his phone, although Tehran denied doing so. "We want to thank Benjamin Netanyahu for his service to the nation". The global community regards the West Bank as occupied Palestinian land and remains committed to the eventual establishment there of a Palestinian state.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, said Israel chose to entrench "the status quo of oppression, occupation, annexation and dispossession".

  • Leroy Wright