Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accompanied by his wife Sara waves to his supporters after polls for Israel's general elections closed in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, April 10, 2019.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accompanied by his wife Sara waves to his supporters after polls for Israel's general elections closed in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, April 10, 2019.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared headed for an unprecedented fifth term Wednesday after his main rival, Benny Gantz, conceded defeat in the country's tight parliamentary election.

With nearly all the votes counted, Netanyahu's conservative Likud Party and Gantz's centrist Blue and White Party each had 35 seats.

But Likud and its right-wing coalition partners were forecast to end up with a total of 65 seats in the 120-seat parliament, and President Reuven Rivlin will again ask Netanyahu to form a government.

Final results are expected Thursday.

After Netanyahu Win, Trump Confident of Middle East Peace

ceab3ff5-59e8-4073-aba1-2cfa407084d3_fullhd.mp4 video player.
Embed

As the last votes cast by Israeli soldiers were being counted late Wednesday, Gantz, the former military chief, was holding on to the slim hope his coalition could still win. But he said that "we respect the decision of the people."  

President Donald Trump tweeted that he had spoken with Netanyahu and had congratulated him "on a great and hard-fought win. The United States is with him and the people of Israel all the way."

An Israeli media photograph of a Netanyahu victory celebration showed a man waving a Trump banner.

Earlier, Netanyahu told his supporters Likud had achieved a "tremendous victory."  He said that while his potential coalition would be a right-wing government, he pledged he would be "prime minister for all."

His comments stood 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. Such a move could wreck any chance of creating an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Gantz called Netanyahu's pledge "irresponsible." Gantz said he favored a "globally backed peace agreement" that envisions Israel maintaining its hold on the large settlement blocs in the West Bank and security control over the territory. 

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves t
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to his supporters after polls for Israel's general elections closed in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, April 10, 2019.

?Gantz portrayed himself as a unifying force in Israel and said it was time to oust Netanyahu from power.

If Rivlin asks Netanyahu to form a coalition government, he would become  Israel's longest-serving leader, surpassing founding father David Ben-Gurion.

But Netanyahu also faces a criminal investigation.

Pending an upcoming hearing, the Israeli attorney general says he plans to indict Netanyahu on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges. Netanyahu has called the Israeli probes a "witch hunt," echoing his good friend Trump, who used the same words to describe the investigation of his 2016 election campaign.

Special Project