Right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears poised to secure a fifth term in office after early results from Israel’s general elections handed him a narrow victory against his centrist rival, Benny Gantz.
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With about 97 percent of the votes cast in Tuesday’s elections counted, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White alliance have each won 35 of the Knesset’s 120 seats.
Likud has so far secured 26.28 percent of the votes, compared to Blue and White’s 25.97 percent, according to the preliminary results released on Wednesday.
Five right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties have managed to secure some 30 seats together, paving the way for Netanyahu to form a coalition administration similar to his current right-wing one, with a solid 65 seats.
The results also give other center, left and Arab parties 55 seats at the Knesset.
Final results are expected by Thursday afternoon, with the ballots cast by army soldiers, prisoners and diplomats yet to be counted.
As polls closed on Tuesday night, both Netanyahu and Gantz, the former military chief of staff, declared victory.
Speaking at the Likud’s post-election party in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu hailed what he called a “magnificent victory.”
He also made it clear that any administration formed by him “will be a right-wing government. But I intend to be the prime minister of all of Israel’s citizens."
At the same time, Gantz also claimed, “We are the ones who won.”
“The president must give us the task of forming the next government since we are the biggest party,” he said in an address to his supporters in Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu’s win comes despite the bribery and other corruption charges against him. The scandal-hit premier faces possible indictment in three graft cases.
During his election campaign, Netanyahu capitalized on US President Donald Trump’s firm support. Trump has delighted Israelis and angered Palestinians by recognizing Jerusalem al-Quds as Israel’s capital and moving the US embassy to the occupied Palestinian city last year.
Two weeks before the election, Trump signed a proclamation, recognizing Israeli “sovereignty” over the occupied Golan Heights seized from Syria in 1967. The US president has also adopted controversial anti-Iran measures to please the Netanyahu administration.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official at the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), criticized the outcome of the vote and said the Israelis had chosen “an overwhelmingly right-wing, Xenophobic and anti-Palestinian parliament.”
“Regrettably, Israelis overwhelmingly voted for candidates that are unequivocally committed to entrenching the status quo of oppression, occupation, annexation and dispossession in Palestine and escalating the assault on Palestinian national and human rights,” she said.
Ashrawi also said the “cynical” Netanyahu-Trump alliance against Palestinian rights “remains unchallenged by the rest of the international community, thereby reinforcing the rightist and populist agendas.”
Additionally, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the Israelis had voted “no to peace and yes to the occupation.”
The Israelis, he noted, “want us to live under a deeper apartheid system than [the one] that existed in the darkest hours of South African apartheid.”
However, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expressed hope that Israel’s parliamentary elections could help bring peace.
Speaking in Ramallah on Tuesday, Abbas stressed that he would not accept Trump’s yet-to-be-unveiled proposal on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “whatever it was.”
“We rejected it because it bypasses our rights legitimized by the international legitimacy,” he said.