Benjamin Netanyahu wins Israel election as Blue and White party leaders concede

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Benjamin Netanyahu, a decade in office and mired in three corruption cases, has come out on top against an opposition that boasted three former Israeli military chiefs. The final results were expected by Friday. Some 40 parties took part in the election, and only those that receive at least 3.25% of the votes make it into parliament.

A couple of small parties were still teetering on the electoral threshold and fighting for survival, so the final makeup of the next parliament could still change slightly.

The veteran right-wing leader's Likud party and Mr Gantz's new centrist Blue and White party both won 35 seats, according to the Knesset website and the Israeli TV channels. He will then pick a party leader to try to form a coalition, giving the candidate 28 days to do so, with a two-week extension if needed.

Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler of the Israel Democracy Institute deemed the strategy saw "a one-to-one imitation" of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign: "This was about both spreading fear and sowing a victim-like mistrust in the democratic institutions". It also will give Netanyahu an important boost as he braces for the possibility of criminal charges in a series of corruption scandals.

The congratulatory tweet from the USA leader comes as preliminary results indicate that the right-wing Likud Party, headed by incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is leading in the Israeli parliamentary election. "The fact that Bibi (Netanyahu) won, I think we'll see some pretty good action in terms of peace", Trump said.

- 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.

"We are going to turn the Knesset into a battleground", Lapid said.

Two major issues face Netanyahu in the coming months. Intensive coalition negotiations will follow and could drag on for days or even weeks.

But under almost every scenario, Netanyahu was the big victor.

Gantz, a newcomer to politics, mounted a strong challenge by brandishing his security credentials while pledging to undo damage he says Netanyahu has inflicted on the country with divisive politics.

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.

Later in the day, the United States president turned to Twitter to share a photo of Netanyahu's victory celebration from Tuesday night.

Netanyahu's message of unity was a sharp contrast from his campaign theme in which he accused Gantz of conspiring with Arab parties to topple him.

Earlier on Wednesday, Netanyahu said he had already started coalition talks with right-wing parties, despite the results of Tuesday's parliamentary elections not being officially revealed yet.

But on Wednesday morning results showed that Netanyahu was likely to form a governing coalition with the backing of other right-wing factions.

Cavusoglu's comments were in an apparent reference to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent pledge to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank if he wins the election.

At this stage, Netanyahu's Likud lost Caesarea with 52% of the vote going to Blue and White.

Ahmed Majdalani, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinians will seek the help of the worldwide community to try to block any such plans. In December, when these elections were called, 73% of voters said they wanted a right or centre-right government.

Some still thought him callow, but in the traumatic aftermath of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a mini-war in Lebanon and a series of horrendous Hamas bombings, he became prime minister for the first time in 1996.

The attorney general has announced he intends to charge Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust pending an upcoming hearing.

Netanyahu said that, in the telephone call, he also thanked Trump for designating Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization on Monday.

In the end, even voters who'd grown exhausted or leery of Netanyahu opted to give him yet another term, rather than trust an opponent untested in political office.

Associated Press writer Aron Heller contributed.

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