Netanyahu's bloc wins majority in Knesset: Exit polls


But Mr Netanyahu will no longer be able to fend off pressure by citing USA opposition. The telegenic Gantz, who has been vague on key policy issues, has presented himself as a clean, scandal-free alternative to Netanyahu. The president was on a flight to Texas.

Mr Trump is expected to release his administration's long-awaited Middle East peace plan after the election. "He's been a great ally and he's a friend".

Rightwing Union leader MK Bezalel Smotrich on Tuesday night declared that his party would hold Netanyahu's feet to the fire on his sovereignty promise, even if all he had meant was to win the settlers' vote.

The results of the elections will determine Netanyahu's political future, as he faces serious corruption allegations and a possible indictment. The victor has to make a coalition with smaller parties, a process that takes weeks to from a cabinet.

"It's a night of tremendous victory", Netanyahu told supporters early Wednesday.

As he walked onto the stage to chanting crowds, he planted a kiss on the lips of his wife Sara before dramatically wiping lipstick from his face.

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Should Netanyahu win a fifth term, he will be on track to surpass founding father David Ben-Gurion as Israel's longest-serving prime minister later this year.

That could be scuppered if criminal charges are filed and force his removal.

Netanyahu had run in the polls while facing charges of corruption and bribery in three cases. Allies could even try to enact legislation protecting Netanyahu from prosecution as a sitting leader.

During the campaign, the rival parties accused each other of corruption, fostering bigotry and being soft on security. The two main parties won 35 seats apiece.

Since taking office, Mr Trump has also moved the USA embassy from Tel Aviv to the politically contested city of Jerusalem, closed the Palestinians' office in Washington, pulled the United States from UN bodies accused of anti-Israel bias and cut off funding for the UN agency that provides schooling and other services to Palestinian refugees.

Once all the votes are in, the leaders of each party that secured a seat in the Knesset will meet with President Reuven Rivlin.

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Millions of Israeli voters headed to the polls Tuesday; making history and handing Benjamin Netanyahu a likely fifth term as the Prime Minister of the world's only Jewish State.

His comments stand in contrast to his appeal to voters in the final days of campaigning when he sought to solidify his conservative base, vowing to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank.

In a rare turn during the race towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr Netanyahu further alarmed Palestinians by pledging to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if re-elected. But with Trump's moves on Jerusalem and the Golan, the prime minister may feel emboldened to advocate annexation.

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat lamented that the Israelis voted to maintain "the status quo".

Unlike the Israelis they hardly have any say over their own future, and when it comes to many Arab states, they can not really count on any real support.

"We must be able to transcend his current leadership to make sure that that alliance is strong, that we continue to push for and settle for nothing less than a two-state solution, because that is the best opportunity for peace for the people of Israel and the people of Palestine", O'Rourke said.

Israelis face pivotal election, possible West Bank annexation under Netanyahu
That followed his December 2017 decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and to move the USA embassy there. Israel disputes this, citing security needs and biblical, historical and political connections to the land.