Israel's Netanyahu set for a fifth term as prime minister

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looked set to win Israeli national election, securing a record fifth term in office despite running neck in neck with his challenger Benny Gantz, the country's three main television channels said.

With 97 per cent of the votes counted, Netanyahu’s Likud Party was clearly in a strong position to form a coalition government with other right-wing factions that have backed him, although neither the ruling Likud Party of the opposition Blue and White party had captured a ruling majority. 
The veteran right-wing leader’s Likud party and Gantz’s new centrist Blue and White party both won 35 seats each, according to the Knesset website and Israeli TV channels. That would mean a five-seat gain for Likud.
Ahead of the elections, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that if he secured another term in office, he would move to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
“I won’t clear a single settlement. And I will naturally ensure that we control the area west of the Jordan River,” Netanyahu said during an interview with Israeli television.
Netanyahu has promoted Jewish settlement expansion into the territory during his four terms as prime minister, but he had stopped short of saying he would annex settlements, until now.
"It is a night of colossal victory," the 69-year-old Netanyahu told cheering supporters in a late-night speech at Likud headquarters, while cautioning that a "long night and possibly day" lay ahead awaiting official results.
Fireworks flared behind him as his wife Sara applauded and kissed him. "He's a magician," the crowd chanted.
Final results were expected by Friday.
If he wins, Netanyahu, 69, will be on track to be the longest-serving prime minister in Israel's 71-year history. Netanyahu said he had already begun talks with prospective coalition allies.
Netanyahu, in power consecutively since 2009, has been fighting for his political survival. He faces possible indictment in three graft cases, and has denied wrongdoing in all three.
Rival Gantz, 59, earlier had also claimed victory, citing preliminary exit polls that were published soon after voting ended on Tuesday showed his party had won more seats than Likud.
"We are the victors," said Gantz, a former military chief fighting his first election. "We want to thank Benjamin Netanyahu for his service to the nation."
Despite both men claiming victory on Tuesday night, the picture became clear by the morning today as the results began streaming in, painting Netanyahu as the winner.
During the campaign, Netanyahu highlighted his close relationship with US President Donald Trump, who delighted Israelis and angered Palestinians by recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 2017 and moving the American Embassy to the holy city last May, while the rival parties accused each other of corruption, fostering bigotry and being soft on security.
Two weeks before the election, Trump signed a proclamation, with Netanyahu at his side at the White House, recognising Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.
Trump is expected to release his administration's long-awaited Middle East peace plan after the election.