Israel's Netanyahu wins re-election, main challenger concedes defeat

Israelis head to polls as Prime Minister Netanyahu seeks fifth term

While his right-wing Likud party and a centrist coalition appear set to have around the same number of parliamentary seats after Tuesday's general elections, the man called "King Bibi" by admirers has a clear path to forming a coalition. Because a simple majority is needed to attain power, and Netanyahu is expected to combine the seats won by the the two ultra-orthodox religious parties with those of other conservative parties, political experts believe he will be able to cobble together a coalition with 65 seats.

More than 40 parties are vying for the 120 seats in the one-chamber Knesset (parliament).

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said on Twitter he would begin meeting next week with political parties that won parliamentary seats to hear who they support for the top job.

He smeared his main election rival, Benny Gantz and his coalition partner Yair Lapid, with the claim that they would attempt to muster a left-wing government "with the support of the Arab parties" that would leave Israel's security weakened.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears poised to be the president's choice. Gantz has been the toughest challenger to his consecutive ten-year-long ruling.

The tight election, called early because of Mr Netanyahu's corruption woes, backed him into a corner and the result was an even more toxic campaign than usual.

Netanyahu had campaigned in the election against ex-military chief Benny Gantz.

"It's a night of tremendous victory", Netanyahu told supporters.

He also had a powerful and none-too-subtle ally in President Trump, who has taken great pains to strengthen the US-Israeli relationship that had become frayed under President Barack Obama.

US President Donald Trump is closely aligned with Netanyahu and is expected to give him leeway over such policies.

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

Prime Minster of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara greet supporters.

Al Jazeera's senior political analyst Marwan Bishara said that based on all three exit polls, it is hard to see how Mr Gantz can form a government without Likud, meaning it's likely Mr Netanyahu will continue a the nation's leader for another term.

In February Israel's attorney general recommended he be indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

With five seats each were Yisrael Beytenu (with 4.15%) and the Union of Right-Wing Parties (3.66%). So did Israel Beiteinu, the right-wing party led by Avigdor Liberman that caters to Russian speakers. If he is re-appointed prime minister, he'll be the longest-serving prime minister in Israel's history.

Due to the strong resistance to the Israeli religious establishment on the part of numerous immigrants who Liberman represents, Yisrael Beytenu has found itself at loggerheads in the past with Haredi parties when they promoted legislation relating to religious matters.

"They have chosen an overwhelmingly right-wing, xenophobic and anti-Palestinian parliament to represent them", she said.

In a rare turn during the race toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu further alarmed Palestinians by pledging to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if re-elected.

"Generally speaking, pre-election polls in Israel have recently turned from a means of understanding the current situation into a tool for agitation".

Democratic Senator Tim Kaine asked Pompeo, a former Republican member of the House of Representatives, if he thought a peace agreement including one state for Israel and one state for the Palestinians was an outdated idea.

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