Gantz's party concedes defeat in Israel election

Blue and White party leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz ahead of a press conference in Tel Aviv

Blue and White party leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz ahead of a press conference in Tel Aviv

A coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party has won a majority of seats in Knesset (Israel's parliament), preliminary results showed on Wednesday.

It would be his record fifth term as premier.

The same channel states that the alliance of the Blue Center, Gantz won more, 37 parliamentary seats, and Netanyahu's conservative Likud 33.

The result was hailed by Donald Trump, who said the prime minister's victory meant "a better chance" for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but was met with dismay by Palestinians. The president was on a flight to Texas.

Yair Lapid, the party's No. 2 figure, told a press conference that though his party "did not win in this round, I respect the voters".

"We won, the Israeli people spoke".

More important, smaller right-wing and religious parties won enough seats to allow him to form a coalition with a comfortable majority.

The country's attorney general recommended charging him with bribery, breach of trust and fraud in three cases.

In the final days of the election, Netanyahu launched what Israeli political commentators dubbed a "gevalt strategy", a Yiddish expression for alarm, aimed at motivating complacent supporters to get out and vote or risk his defeat at the hands of a resurgent left-wing.

"It is a night of colossal victory", the 69-year-old Netanyahu told cheering supporters in a late-night speech at Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv after Tuesday's vote.

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It would be Mr Netanyahu's record fifth term as Prime Minister.

As he walked onto the stage to chanting crowds, he planted a kiss on the lips of his wife Sara. If officially reelected, the Israeli prime minister would begin his unprecedented fifth term under a cloud of scandal. That could be scuppered if criminal charges are filed and force his removal. A hearing is expected in July and a final indictment could come as soon as six months later.

During the campaign, the rival parties accused each other of corruption, fostering bigotry and being soft on security. In February, he said that Israel's almost two million Arabs were not true citizens of the country.

Due to the strong resistance to the Israeli religious establishment on the part of numerous immigrants who Liberman represents, Yisrael Beytenu has found itself at loggerheads in the past with Haredi parties when they promoted legislation relating to religious matters.

Germany has pledged to work closely with any new Israeli government and stressed the "cordial" ties between the two countries despite recent differences on Israel's settlement policies.

In a rare turn during the campaign toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu alarmed Palestinians by pledging to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if re-elected. We'll see - but there's no doubt that Netanyahu owes Trump big-time.

Commenting on the election, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Israelis had voted to preserve the status quo.

Khalil al-Hayya said Wednesday that "there is no difference" between the Israeli parties, and pledged that Gaza's militant Hamas rulers would continue seeking to "end the occupation and achieve our national goals".

Democratic Senator Tim Kaine asked Pompeo, a former Republican member of the House of Representatives, if he thought a peace agreement including one state for Israel and one state for the Palestinians was an outdated idea.

Despite its weakness, Israel's opposition must present an alternative vision based on advancing peace, increasing regional belonging in Europe and the Middle East, and anchoring Israel to the club of liberal democracies.

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