Jerusalem, April 10 (IANS) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to secure a record fifth term in office on Wednesday after more than 95 per cent of the votes gave the right-wing bloc a lead over the left in the general election, the media reported.
Palestinian officials in Ramallah said they were not surprised by the results of the general election in Israel and expressed concern over the rise of Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc.
US President Donald Trump said Netanyahu’s re-election was a “good sign for peace”.
With 97 per cent of the votes in Tuesday’s contest counted, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party was tied with ex-military chief Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White alliance with 35 seats each. But the Prime Minister’s right-wing/ultra-Orthodox bloc held a decisive lead and he was thus en route to forming a majority governing coalition.
Likud and its right-wing allies were set to be the largest bloc with 65 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, the Times of Israel reported. The daily said that Gantz’s party had insufficient support from other parties to prevent Netanyahu staying in power for what will be a fifth term.
The figures come as the 69-year-old Prime Minister faces corruption allegations. The hearing is expected to take place in July and the decision on the final indictment will come some six months later.
However, the election result means Netanyahu could become Israel’s longest-serving Premier, overtaking Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion. The final results were expected by Friday.
“Israelis have voted to maintain the status quo, as far as the occupation of Palestine,” said Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary-General Saeb Erekat.
“They voted for apartheid and to an endless occupation.”
Calling Netanyahu a “great friend”, Trump said: “I’d like to congratulate Bibi Netanyahu. It looks like that race has been won by him. It may be a little early but I’m hearing he’s won it and won it in good fashion.”
“He’s been a great ally and he’s a friend… that was a well fought out race I can tell you.”
The Arab parties lost three seats in the Knesset because of their differences and failure to run in a joint list, political analysts and activists in the Arab sector were cited as saying by the Jerusalem Post.
Only half of the Arab voters cast their ballots in the election despite appeals by the leaders of the Arab parties.
Exit polls had predicted a closely-contested race with no clear winner, prompting both Netanyahu and Gantz to claim victory on Tuesday night.
“It is a night of colossal victory,” Netanyahu said, thanking his supporters, the members of his party and his wife, Sarah, who he kissed before and after the speech and who never left his side.
“It will be a right-wing government, but I will be Prime Minister for all. I’m very touched that the people of Israel gave me their vote of confidence for the fifth time and an even bigger vote of confidence than previous elections.
Gantz, 59, had also claimed victory, citing preliminary exit polls which showed his party had won more seats than Likud.
“We won! The Israeli public has had their say! Thank you to the thousands of activists and over a million voters. These elections have a clear winner and a clear loser. Netanyahu promised 40 seats and lost. The President can see the picture and should call on the winner to form the next government. There is no other option!” he said.
But Wednesday morning results showed that Netanyahu was likely to form a governing coalition with the backing of other right-wing factions.