Jerusalem – Israel’s incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on course for a record fifth term, election results show.
Netanyahu has an advantage as nearly all right-wing parties have declared their support for him, Israeli media reported.
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The Likud party, with the help of other right-wing parties, are likely to muster enough support to get a majority in the 120-seat parliament, known as the Knesset.
“It is a night of colossal victory,” Netanyahu, 69, told supporters at Likud headquarters.
The Likud party and the centrist Blue and White party – led by Netanyahu’s main rival Benny Gantz – tied at 97 percent of votes counted. The two main parties won 35 seats apiece.
It is a night of colossal victory
Likud, which gained five seats compared with the 2015 elections, needs 61 seats to form the government.
Netanyahu and his main challenger Gantz were quick to claim victory in the elections.
“The skies may look overcast … but they cannot conceal the sun of hope that we have brought to the Israeli people and society,” Gantz, 59, wrote in an open letter.
United Torah Judaism, Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu, Union of Right-Wing Parties and Kulanu are parties from the right-wing bloc that have passed the 3.25 percent threshold to enter Knesset, obtaining 30 seats combined.
This places the right-wing bloc in a 10-seat lead over the left.
In the centre-left bloc, Labor, Meretz and the Arab parties of Hadash-Ta’al and Balad-Ra’am obtained 20 seats.
Despite a low voter turnout among Israeli Palestinians, the Arab lists of Hadash-Ta’al and Balad-Ra’am passed the threshold gaining six and four seats respectively.
However, their total of 10 Knesset seats is lower than in the 2015 elections, when the Arab joint list won 13, making them the third-largest faction in the 20th Knesset.
An hour before voting closed, Israeli Palestinian turnout was at 46 percent, well below the 61 percent turnout nationwide. Palestinian turnout in the 2015 election was 63 percent.
The New Right, Zehut and Gesher parties did not pass the threshold.
Mitchell Barak, an Israeli political pollster and analyst, told Al Jazeera that it is a remarkable achievement for a party to obtain 35 seats, referring to both frontrunners.
“Gantz has come out of literally nowhere. Four months ago he created a party that is now at least tied for being one of the largest parties today, and bigger than any party has been in recent memory, maybe 10 years or so,” Barak said.
However, Gantz’s biggest mistake is that he chose to have a rotation agreement [as prime minister] with Blue and White cofounder Yair Lapid, former finance minister and TV personality.
“Israelis like leaders and they want one leader. They don’t want a power-sharing arrangement,” Barak said.
Barak said that Netanyahu now has plenty of options for forming a coalition. He can partner with the parties from the right-wing bloc or choose to have a national unity government with the Blue and White party.
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.
Rivlin will then decide which party leader has the best chance of forming a coalition government, to be determined in a few weeks.
Political analyst Ofer Zalzberg told Al Jazeera that the critical issue is not which party receives the most votes but which party can secure the recommendations of 61 Knesset members to form the next government.
Gantz had to generate potential alliances, for instance, with the ultra-Orthodox or among former immigrants from the Soviet Union. That’s why he made an error when he formed an alliance with Lapid, Zalzberg said.
The message that the Israeli public has sent is very clear. They support him, they support his policies of apartheid, they support his policies of colonisation.
“By merging into a single list with Lapid, he acted in the opposite way. Lapid is a nemesis of the ultra-Orthodox; they wouldn’t recommend him as prime minister.
“This rotating [premiership] agreement between Gantz and Lapid was ruinous and it assured that the ultra-Orthodox will … recommend Netanyahu.”
Although Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation in occupied East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank and living under Israeli siege in the Gaza Strip do not have voting rights in the Israeli elections, it is the Palestinian population that will be most affected by the new government.
Diana Buttu, a Palestinian Haifa-based analyst and former legal adviser to Palestinian peace negotiators, told Al Jazeera that Netanyahu’s renewed mandate will allow him to continue his “policies of apartheid, colonisation, and racism”.
Buttu said that for as long as Netanyahu has been prime minister, the Palestinian Authority has been urging the international community to intervene during the bombing of Gaza, construction of settlements, demolition of Palestinian homes, passage of the nation-state law and regarding the annexation of the West Bank.
“… [Netanyahu] is ideologically opposed to Palestinian freedom [and] he’s going to continue to do whatever he wants against Palestinians,” Buttu said.
“The message that the Israeli public has sent is very clear. They support him, they support his policies of apartheid, they support his policies of colonisation and they support a racist.”