Israeli election sees no clear victor - exit polls

Israeli election sees no clear victor - exit polls

Israeli election sees no clear victor - exit polls

His apparent victory comes despite impending corruption charges.

Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to portray himself as Israel's essential statesman. Then, Netanyahu showed up at his party headquarters - fireworks and all. 2020 presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke called Netanyahu a "racist" who has sided with a "far-right racist party" on Sunday.

Gantz called Netanyahu's remarks "irresponsible" electioneering and said that as Prime Minister he would not make any unilateral moves in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Earlier that night, Gantz had claimed victory.

"He's a magician!" the crowd chanted as fireworks flared and Netanyahu kissed his wife Sara. "I'd like to congratulate him on a well-thought-out race", Mr Trump said.

The close and often vitriolic contest was widely seen in Israel as a referendum on Netanyahu's character and record in the face of corruption allegations. But with Trump's moves on Jerusalem and the Golan, the prime minister may feel emboldened to advocate annexation. Gantz said that he recognized the strength of the right-wing bloc and as a democrat he accepts the results but that he will continue to focus on his goals.

He engaged in populist rhetoric critics said amounted to the demonisation of Arab Israelis and others.

Although Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation in occupied East Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and living under Israeli siege in the Gaza Strip do not have voting right in the Israeli elections, it's the Palestinian population that will be most affected by the new government. If he does indeed hang on it will be in part because of his willingness to boost racist, far-right politicians.

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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. Gantz's coalition, by contrast, is expected to only pick up 55 seats. He will have up to 42 days in which to do it. Rivals have also begun to question a deal in which Netanyahu reportedly earned $4 million on a German submarine sale to Egypt by owning shares in one of the German manufacturer's suppliers.

Pending an upcoming hearing, the Israeli attorney general says he plans to indict Netanyahu on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges. The law remains politically scandalous, but even so it is highly unlikely that it will be repealed or amended in the foreseeable future - and certainly not under a Netanyahu government.

Moreover, the right-wing bloc in parliament favours Netanyahu and could make him prime minister even if Gantz's party wins more seats.

Once the final results are announced, parties that have made it to the Knesset will submit their recommendations for prime minister to President Reuven Rivlin.

What is likely to change?

The strengthening of the two ultra-Orthodox parties - to a combined 16 seats from 13 in the outgoing parliament - will increase their clout in government, particularly in matters of religion and state such as the fierce debate over whether ultra-Orthodox Jews should perform mandatory military service.

Yet the New York Times had declared the election a "setback" for Netanyahu, based on exit polls that showed Likud losing by a substantial margin to the opposition, led by former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff Benny Gantz.

Political analyst Ofer Zalzberg told Al Jazeera that the critical issue is not which party receives the most votes but which party can secure recommendations of 61 Knesset members to form the next government. The few groups that still believe in a fair compromise with the Palestinians have largely vanished from the political scene.

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