Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wins Re-Election despite Pending Criminal Indictment

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Both Netanyahu and ex-military chief Benny Gantz claimed victory after initial exit surveys were released by Israel's three main television stations following the closure of polling venues on Tuesday night.

Al Jazeera's senior political analyst Marwan Bishara said that based on all three exit polls, it is hard to see how Mr Gantz can form a government without Likud, meaning it's likely Mr Netanyahu will continue a the nation's leader for another term. Gantz's coalition, by contrast, is expected to only pick up 55 seats.

Both parties would, in any case, fall far short of a majority and be forced to form a coalition.

No single Israeli party has ever won enough seats to form a government.

"The bloc, which united several small parties, received five seats in the parliament", he said.

"The party that gains more votes in a closed voting will receive a mandate to form a government", Spivak said.

Rather, Mr Netanyahu's re-election demonstrates that Israelis want to continue the status quo and believe that the sitting prime minister is the right person for that job, despite - or, perhaps, because of - the toxic nature of his last tenure and his dirty electioneering.

"He's a magician!" the crowd chanted as fireworks flared and Netanyahu kissed his wife Sara.

Is Netanyahu still prime minister?

Shushan Levi, 61, called Gantz's performance an "enormous victory for an alliance so new".

During a tight and ugly election campaign Mr Netanyahu accused Mr Gantz of conspiring with Arab parties to topple him, leading to suggestiong that the leader was demonizing the country's Arab community.

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"He was my commander in the army 40 years ago".

- The 59-year-old Gantz touts his military service and accuses Netanyahu of being corrupt and sowing division, but the two hold similar views on security issues and Israel's approach to the Palestinians.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu urged Israelis to abandon strong "rhetoric and populism" now that the elections were over. It is a move long championed by Israel's far right.

Gantz said his party had "founded a true alternative rule to Netanyahu" who is entering an historic fifth term as Israel's prime minister.

Trump has pleased Netanyahu greatly by moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, an area seized from Syria in fighting in 1967.

But Netanyahu also faces an ongoing criminal investigation. Palestinian turnout in the 2015 election was 63 percent.

US President Donald Trump is closely aligned with Netanyahu and is expected to give him leeway over such policies.

The comments from Trump came as a steady stream of congratulations from largely right-wing world leaders poured in following Netanyahu's success. First is former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party, while the second is Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked's New Right (Hayemin Hehadash) party.

Should Mr Netanyahu retain the helm, he will in July become the longest-serving Israeli prime minister, overtaking the country's founding father, David Ben-Gurion.

Netanyahu could endow this limited sovereignty move a much more significant force by following the Supreme Court ruling and demolishing Khan al-Ahmar, the illegal shantytown near Kfar Adumim.

- The attorney general however has announced his intention to charge Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust pending a hearing, with proceedings set to begin in the coming months.

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