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The elections appear to prove Netanyahu's enduring domestic appeal despite the graft accusations, and a fifth term in office would have knock-on implications for the peace process with Palestinians and for his potential indictment.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu smiles as he addresses supporters on election night at his Likud Party headquarters in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv early on April 10, 2019.His victory has been hailed by several leaders around the world. "He's been a good ally and he's a friend, I would like to congratulate him, that was a well-fought out race, I can tell you".

As their elections were wrapping up yesterday it was obvious that it was going to be a close race, with everyone watching to see how many seats in the Knesset would be held by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and how many Benny Gantz's Blue and White party could pick up.

"This is a clear beginning of Netanyahu's fifth term, but his fifth term might end up being his shortest one", said Reuven Hazan, a political scientist from Jerusalem's Hebrew University.

The results were not final, with tens of thousands of ballots yet to be counted. However, Netanyahu said he had already begun talks with prospective coalition allies.

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

Netanyahu sought to portray himself as Israel's essential statesman in the run-up to the vote and highlighted his bond with US President Donald Trump. His rival Benny Gantz's Blue and White party look to have tied in the number of Knesset seats, but Mr Gantz has conceded, recognising that Mr Netanyahu was far better placed to construct a coalition. That means that the more parties there are on each side of the ideological divide sucking the air out of the room, the less likely the larger, established parties are to garner more seats.

Fireworks flared behind him as his wife Sara applauded and kissed him.

"He's a magician!", the crowd chanted.

Netanyahu, in power consecutively since 2009, has been fighting for his political survival.

The attorney general has announced he intends to charge Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust pending an upcoming hearing.

That came after Trump signed a proclamation during Netanyahu's visit to Washington on March 25, officially granting US recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, a dramatic departure from decades of American policy.

Trump told reporters at the White House that Netanyahu's re-election improved the chances of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

In the final days of the campaign, Netanyahu has vowed to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank - a move that would quash any remaining hopes of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Palestinians demand a full return to the borders that existed before the 1967 war when Israel seized the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, said Israel chose to entrench "the status quo of oppression, occupation, annexation and dispossession".

A team led by Mr Trump's adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner has been working on an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, but they have not disclosed details.

Netanyahu faced further criticism on election day when members of his Likud party brought small cameras into polling stations in Arab areas.

Netanyahu may have a win on his hands, but he now has to form a coalition government.


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