Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds an edge over his main rival in Israel’s third election in under a year, exit polls show.
- Israel has weathered two inconclusive elections in one year
- Mr Netanyahu is Israel’s longest-serving leader
- His rival Benny Gantz stopped short of conceding defeat
But it is still unclear if he can clinch the parliamentary majority needed to claim victory.
Exit polls on Israel’s main TV channels showed Mr Netanyahu and his nationalist and religious allies winning 59 seats, two short of a parliamentary majority.
The centre-left bloc, led by former military chief Benny Gantz, was projected to win 54 to 55 seats.
If the official results from Monday’s election match the exit polls, Mr Netanyahu could find himself stuck in continued political deadlock ahead of his trial on corruption charges, set to begin March 17.
Earlier projections had forecast 60 seats for Mr Netanyahu and his allies, putting him on the cusp of victory leading him to claim victory.
“We won thanks to our belief in our path and thanks to the people of Israel,” he said earlier in the night.
The actual results are expected later today.
A win for Mr Netanyahu, 70, after inconclusive ballots in April and September, would be testimony to the political durability of Israel’s longest-serving leader, who fought the latest campaign under the shadow of a looming corruption trial.
It would also pave the way for him to make good on his pledge to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank under a controversial peace plan presented by US President Donald Trump.
Palestinians have rejected the proposal, saying it kills their dream of establishing a viable state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Mr Netanyahu has been a caretaker prime minister for more than a year as a divided country has weathered two inconclusive votes and prolonged political paralysis.
With pre-election opinion polls forecasting another deadlock, Mr Netanyahu had sought a late surge in support to score a parliamentary majority along with other nationalist parties for a fourth consecutive term in office, and fifth overall.
Mr Gantz pledged to press ahead, but did not immediately concede defeat.
“Thank you to the thousands of activists and more than million voters who chose Blue and White,” Mr Gantz said on Twitter, referring to his party.
“I will continue to fight for the right path, for you.”
More to come.