Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to be in position for a fifth term in power Wednesday as results from a tight parliamentary election showed his Likud Party and right-wing allies in the best position to form a coalition government.
With 97 percent of ballots counted, Likud stood even with the centrist Blue and White Party led by former military chief Benny Gantz.
With neither able to win a majority of the Knesset on its own, a coalition will be necessary. Likud and its allies could end up with about 65 seats in the 120-member body.
Both sides claimed victory in the hours after the voting ended.
As more results came in Wednesday, Netanyahu told his supporters Likud had achieved a “tremendous victory.” He said that while his potential coalition would be a right-wing government, he pledged he would be “prime minister for all.”
His comments stand in contrast to his appeal to voters in the final days of campaigning when he sought to solidify his conservative base, vowing to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank. Such a move could end any chance of creating an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Gantz called Netanyahu’s pledge “irresponsible.” Gantz said he favors a “globally backed peace agreement” that envisions Israel maintaining its hold on the large settlement blocs in the West Bank and security control over the territory.
Gantz portrayed himself as a unifying force in Israel and said it was time to oust Netanyahu from power.
“There’s a need for change and an opportunity for change,” Gantz told Israel’s army radio on Monday. “Israel needs to choose a direction of unification, connection and hope — not of extremity.”
Should his party form a coalition, Netanyahu would be on track later this year to become Israel’s longest-serving leader, surpassing founding father David Ben-Gurion.
But Netanyahu also faces an ongoing criminal investigation.
Pending an upcoming hearing, the Israeli attorney general says he plans to indict Netanyahu on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges. Netanyahu has called the Israeli probes a “witch hunt,” echoing his good friend, U.S. President Donald Trump, who used the same words to describe the investigation of his 2016 election campaign.