Israeli exit polls show Netanyahu, main rival in tight race

Israeli elections Netanyahu faces challenge from Gantz at polls

Millions of Israelis are at the polls in the country's first general election since 2015.

His rival Benny Gantz's Blue and White party look to have tied in the number of Knesset seats, but Mr Gantz has conceded, recognising that Mr Netanyahu was far better placed to construct a coalition.

As their elections were wrapping up yesterday it was obvious that it was going to be a close race, with everyone watching to see how many seats in the Knesset would be held by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and how many Benny Gantz's Blue and White party could pick up.

Gantz said his party "founded a true alternative rule to Netanyahu", but its No. 2 figure, Yair Lapid, told reporters Wednesday that it "did not win in this round". "Elections have losers and elections have winners".

After declaring victory early in the night, Gantz's Blue and White party watched as the numbers turned against them in a knife-edge vote.

According to preliminary results posted on Israel's Central Elections Committee website, 11, or possibly 12, of the whopping 40 parties which participated in the vote will enter the Knesset. "I want to make it clear, it will be a right-wing government, but I intend to be the prime minister of all Israeli citizens, right or left, Jews or non-Jews alike, all Israeli citizens", said Netanyahu. It appears Netanyahu's party - Likud - has a pathway to do that, relying on a coalition of far-right and ultra-orthodox parties.

- The attorney general however has announced his intention to charge Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust pending a hearing, with proceedings set to begin in the coming months.

A spokesman for Mr Gantz's party declared: "We won".

Trump administration officials have said that they expect the plan for Israelis and Palestinians to be made public right after Israel's parliamentary election, with indications that it could happen even before the new government is formed, a process that could take several weeks.

"A long night-maybe a long day-is still ahead of us, and we will wait for the final results", he said.

Netanyahu's corruption cases. The prime minister is facing possible indictment in three graft cases, and may learn later this year if he will be formally charged. Every government has been a coalition. A third poll showed the opposite, with Blue and White holding a one-seat advantage.

With Netanyahu's Likud and other right-wing parties projected to take around 65 seats in the 120-seat parliament, he is nearly certain to be asked by President Reuven Rivlin to form a government. Netanyahu said such a scenario is backed by the centrist party's "secret deal" with Arab factions.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who Netanyahu featured on campaign billboards to highlight their close relationship, phoned to congratulate him on his re-election, the Israeli leader said, adding that he thanked his American ally for "tremendous support for Israel". Along with two other former military chiefs on his ticket, Gantz has attacked Netanyahu for failing to halt rocket fire from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

He called Netanyahu´s annexation pledge an "irresponsible" bid for votes.

Commenting on the election, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said: "Israelis have voted to preserve the status quo". The president will also nominate the prime minister, who is usually the head of the party that won the most seats.

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