Netanyahu, Gantz both claim victory as Israel election too close to call

An Israeli Arab man walks past an electoral billboard bearing portraits of Blue and White political alliance leaders Moshe Yaalon Benny Gantz Yair Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi

Exit polls in Israel suggest there will be no clear victor in the country's closely fought general election.

Israelis went to the polls on Tuesday to select their new leader, with Netanyahu and his center-right Likud party running neck-and-neck with his prime challenger-former Israel Defense Forces general Benny Gantz, who leads the Blue and White coalition.

Confetti falls as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara stand on stage after Netanyahu spoke following the announcement of exit polls in Israel's parliamentary election at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel April 10, 2019.

"The skies may look overcast. but they can not hide the sun of hope that we have brought to the Israeli people and society", Gantz, 59, wrote in an open letter.

Earlier in the night, with fewer of the votes counted, Blue and White still appeared to be ahead by one seat and Gantz projected optimism. "These elections have a clear victor and a clear loser".

Netanyahu spoke in the early hours of Wednesday at the Likud's post-election party in Tel Aviv and called it a "magnificent victory". They have the right to vote, but this time many of them did not exercise it because of a law enacted by Netanyahu, which virtually relegated the non-Jewish minority to being second-class citizens.

He thanked his voters and said that as soon as tonight, he "will begin working on forming a right-wing government with natural potential partners". It has also placed Mr. Gantz's new Blue and White party in the position of the main alternative to the right wing, a spot once held by the Labor party.

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

During the campaign, Gantz said a government under his stewardship would pursue peace, but stopped short of committing to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Official results weren't expected until Wednesday morning. However, the prime minister is betting on cobbling together a coalition government with other parties on the political right. And it turns out that even if the Blue and White had taken several more seats, the odds are that Benny Gantz still wouldn't have wound up as Prime Minister.

With Netanyahu's Likud and other right-wing parties projected to take around 65 seats in the 120-seat parliament, he is nearly certain to be asked by President Reuven Rivlin to form a government.

Netanyahu faced further criticism on election day when members of his Likud party brought small cameras into polling stations in Arab areas. Each leader will tell the president which party head they think should be invited to form a government.

Netanyahu highlighted his close relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump, who delighted Israelis and angered Palestinians by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 2017 and moving the American Embassy to the holy city last May. Gantz, a career soldier who retired as chief of staff in 2015, entered politics a year ago for the first time, joining forces with two other former army chiefs.

He has called Netanyahu's annexation pledge an "irresponsible" bid for votes.

Commenting on the election, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said: "Israelis have voted to preserve the status quo". We will not back down from our public duty to represent over a million people who asked us for something different.

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