Israeli PM poised for record 5th term

Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg speaks to the media at the National Action Network's annual convention in New York City

In the end, voters kept to the right in granting a fifth term to a leader who has a reputation for getting things done, despite an array of former generals who stood against him - and were dismissed by Netanyahu as the "weak left".

As of now, the right-wing Likud party headed by Netanyahu and the opposition centrist block Kahol-lavan are in the lead.

Regardless of who becomes the next prime minister, the election has already proven to be a humbling setback for Mr. Netanyahu, 69, who has built a strong economy, kept the country safe and has been promoted by President Trump.

Two weeks before the election, Trump signed a proclamation, with Netanyahu at his side at the White House, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. The president was on a flight to Texas.

"He's been a great ally and he's a friend... that was a well fought out race I can tell you". "And I think we have, now, a better chance with Bibi having won".

Mr Trump predicted a boost to his administration's promised plan for a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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.

The close and often vitriolic contest was widely seen in Israel as a referendum on Mr Netanyahu's character and record in the face of corruption allegations.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and will have the opportunity to plead his case at a pre-trial hearing against the filing of potential bribery and fraud charges.

Earlier in the night, with fewer of the votes counted, Blue and White still appeared to be ahead by one seat and Gantz projected optimism.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed victory in the election.

As he walked onto the stage to chanting crowds, he planted a kiss on the lips of his wife Sara.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears poised to be the president's choice, with close-to-complete unofficial election results giving his right-wing Likud and other nationalist and religious parties a solid majority in parliament. That could be scuppered if criminal charges are filed and force his removal.

Netanyahu's message of unity contrasted with his campaign theme in which he accused Gantz of conspiring with Arab parties to topple him.

In Israel's proportional political system, no party has ever won an outright majority. But most of its support seems to have come at the expense of the venerable Labor and leftist Meretz parties, which both earned historic lows in the election.

Germany has pledged to work closely with any new Israeli government and stressed the "cordial" ties between the two countries despite recent differences on Israel's settlement policies.

Though the Palestinian issue was rarely mentioned in the raucous campaign, Netanyahu in the final stretch pledged for the first time to annex parts of the occupied West Bank in a desperate bid to rally his right-wing base.

And with peace and security dominating the race, Netanyahu had a formidable record on which to run: isolation of the Palestinian Authority, containment of the Hamas threat in Gaza and growing alliances, once unthinkable, with Arab states.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said that "Israelis have voted to preserve the status quo".

Annexation would snuff out the last flicker of hope for Palestinian statehood.

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