Israel’s Netanyahu set to win record 5th term as PM

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz speaks after the first elections exit polls

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz speaks after the first elections exit polls

A third poll showed the opposite, with Blue and White holding a one-seat advantage.

At the sessions, which Rivlin said would be broadcast live "to ensure transparency", he will then pick a party leader to try to form a coalition, giving the candidate 28 days to do so, with a two-week extension if needed.

The results were likely to take fuller shape as vote counting progressed in the early morning.

Addressing cheering supporters who waved Israeli flags at an event hall in Tel Aviv, Gantz called it a "historic day". It would be his record fifth term as premier.

"He's a magician!" the crowd chanted as fireworks flared and Netanyahu kissed his wife Sara.

"It will be a rightwing government, but I will be prime minister for all", he said.

"I'd like to congratulate" Netanyahu, said Trump, after almost complete results put the incumbent premier in position to form a coalition and extend his long tenure.

Later in the day, the United States president turned to Twitter to share a photo of Netanyahu's victory celebration from Tuesday night.

Shushan Levi, 61, called Gantz's performance an "enormous victory for an alliance so new".

"He was my commander in the army 40 years ago". To save his political career, Mr Netanyahu has aligned with pro-settlement Jewish supremacists who are openly racist against Arabs.

Merkel warns European Union is likely to agree to lengthy Brexit delay
European Union leaders are expected to offer the prime minister an extension until December or even March next year. The Prime Minister's agreement is required for any change to the Brexit date to be finalised.

The 69-year-old Netanyahu has been the dominant force in Israeli politics for the past two decades and its face to the world.

He engaged in populist rhetoric that critics said amounted to the demonisation of Arab Israelis and others.

Salvini, who is head of the far-right League party, also sent a "big hug" to the Israeli people in a comment accompanied by a photograph of Salvini and Netanyahu shaking hands and smiling.

Though the Palestinian issue was rarely mentioned in the raucous campaign, Netanyahu had 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. If he does indeed hang on it will be in part because of his willingness to boost racist, far-right politicians.

"The biggest issue is Netanyahu himself: whether Israelis are exhausted of Netanyahu, whether they're put off by the stench of corruption that surrounds him, whether they want a change, or whether they prefer to stick with a safe pair of hands and a statesman that obviously enjoys good relations with many world leaders", Northeastern University Professor Dov Waxman told RT. "There's actually been very little debate - a striking lack of debate - over Israeli policies". But with Trump's moves on Jerusalem and the Golan, the prime minister may feel emboldened to advocate annexation.

Gantz and Lapid had agreed to alternate in the role of prime minister if they were tasked with forming a governing coalition for the next five-year term, but analysts always warned that this would be hard given the parliamentary arithmetic. "They have said no to peace and yes to the occupation". He opposes unilateral moves.

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Two of his potential allies, hawkish former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman and economic-centric Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, have yet to formally confirm they would sit with Netanyahu and could emerge as wildcards.

This means that Netanyahu will be able to serve his fifth term, thus, becoming the longest-serving leader of Israel.

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