Benjamin Netanyahu appears poised to win historic fifth term amid corruption charges

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Leader of the Blue and White Party Benny Gantz said on Wednesday morning that despite the results that appeared to give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a fifth term in office and a large lead to the right-wing bloc, nothing was final yet.

Gantz, who had declared victory on election night, said Wednesday his party would "respect the decision of the people and we will respect the decision of the president".

Trump made the call from his Air Force One plane, the statement said, after Netanyahu won a parliamentary election and looked set to be able to stay in power with the support of religious-rightist parties, despite a strong showing from his main centrist challenger.

Despite that, Netanyahu gained four seats compared to his outgoing coalition government, according to a spreadsheet published by the Central Elections Committee of parties that garnered enough votes to enter the next parliament.

Netanyahu told a crowd of cheering supporters on Monday that "the only way to close the gap and ensure with certainty that Likud will form the next government is to have a big Likud". The last time he feared losing an election, he warned of Israeli Arab voters heading to polling stations "in droves"; this time, his party Likud placed hidden cameras in polling stations in Arab communities, their purported concerns about "voting fraud" looking more like voter suppression.

Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, greet supporters during his after vote speech on April 10, 2019 in Tel Aviv, Israel.

The vote had always been expected to be close and lead to frantic negotiations to form a coalition, even with Netanyahu facing potential corruption charges. Faced with criticism over his alliance with an overtly racist entity, Netanyahu has defended the agreement as a way to improve his chances of forming a right-wing governing coalition led by his Likud Party.

Additionally, Netanyahu courted more overtly racist elements of the Israeli far right as he eyed reelection. The close race between the two main parties had led to uncertainty after polls closed on Tuesday night and exit surveys were released. If it includes Israeli concessions to the Palestinians, Netanyahu's probable far-right coalition allies will likely object.

Extending Israeli sovereignty on a large-scale in the West Bank could be the death knell to already fading hopes for a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Dr Nimrod Goren director of the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies
Dr Nimrod Goren director of the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies

"The fact that [Netanyahu] won, I think we'll see some pretty good action in terms of peace [with the Palestinians]", said Trump.

Gantz, a 59-year-old former general, frequently attacked Netanyahu during the campaign over allegations of corrupt behaviour by the longtime prime minister.

- Labour dominated Israeli politics for years after the country's foundation in 1948, but has lost support as Israeli politics has moved to the right.

Now the tough part: a coalition government needs to be created.

Palestinians seek a state there and in the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

True to form, Netanyahu issued a deeply controversial pledge only three days before the election, saying he planned to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank should he win.

The president added an optimistic prediction for progress towards peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

"All that we hope is there will be a just way, a correct way to reach peace", he said.

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