Netanyahu, Gantz claim victory in squeaker of Israeli election

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After a bitter, roller-coaster campaign, Israelis went to bed Tuesday without a clear picture of whether longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could hold on to power in the face of corruption allegations and a strong challenger, but partial results suggested he would.

Both Netanyahu and his challenger Benny Gantz claimed victory in speeches to raucous crowds at their neighboring campaign headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Exit polls conducted by Israeli television channels, however, all showed that Netanyahu and his Likud party were in a stronger position to form a majority coalition in the Knesset, or parliament.

As the night went on, with 97 percent of the ballots counted, Israeli broadcasters reported that Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White party were tied, with 35 seats each.

“I want to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart. It’s an unbelievable, tremendous victory,” Netanyahu told his supporters, his wife, Sara, at his side.

A few hours earlier, Gantz had told a flag-waving crowd that it was a “historic” day for Israel.

“In elections there are winners and losers, and we are the winners,” he said. “We won and we will keep on winning.”

What is certain is that Gantz, a former military chief of staff who first entered politics late last year, has put up a formidable challenge, even if he fails to secure the position of prime minister.

“He started his move three months ago and it looks like he could have won as many seats as the Likud party that’s existed for more than 40 years,” said Meir Rubin, executive director of the right-wing Kohelet Policy Forum. “It’s an incredible achievement.”

But if Netanyahu prevails, that will be perhaps the greater political feat, given that Israel’s attorney general has recommended indicting the prime minister in three corruption cases, including on bribery, corruption and breach-of-trust charges, though Netanyahu has a chance to present his defense first.

This article is originally posted on Washington Post