Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated on Tuesday "great victory" in the general elections, as exit polls put him in a strong position to form the next government and face accusations of corruption. At the same time, his opponent, head of the Blue and White party, Benny Gantz, admitted "disappointment".
Netanyahu said in a televised speech to his supporters: "This victory tonight, which exceeded all expectations, is greater than the 1996 victory. We have defeated all the forces that said the Netanyahu era has passed and long gone," while his supporters chanted and sang "Long live Bibi, king of Israel".
Netanyahu added that he would work earnestly to realise his promise to annex the Jordan Valley and settlements in the occupied West Bank.
He continued: "We visited each house and each street at a time. We roamed the country, and we met the citizens of the State of Israel, where we had to convince some and pass on to them our infectious enthusiasm." He continued: "They had confidence in us because they knew that we had achieved the best gains to Israel."
In November, 70-year-old Netanyahu, including the 14 years of his life he spent in office, became the first Prime Minister in Israeli history to be facing criminal charges during his tenure, as the trial is expected to begin on 17 March in Jerusalem, which increases the importance of his victory.
If the Israeli PM and his allies manage to obtain a parliamentary majority, he will appear before the judiciary from a position of strength. He will maintain his position, according to observers.
"We have turned Israel into a great country, we have developed international relations that did not exist with Arab and Islamic countries, and with international and Arab leaders, who are more than you can imagine. Believe me, when I say that we will conclude peace treaties with Arab countries, as more important details are lying beneath the surface. "He added: " I am the only one who is capable of achieving this, and no one else can."
Opinion polls showed that Netanyahu is ahead of his opponent, Gantz. Thus, Surveys conducted by three TV channels also showed that the right-wing bloc and its Likud party, to which Netanyahu belongs, will get 60 seats, and will need one additional vote to form a government with a majority of 61 deputies out of 120 in the Knesset.
The previous two rounds produced very close results between Netanyahu and Gantz, preventing both of them from forming a government coalition with the required majority in the Knesset.
The polls indicated that the Likud party alone might win 36 or 37 seats in the Knesset, compared to 32 or 33 for the Blue and White party headed by former General Gantz.
The polls predicted that Gantz, along with his left-wing and centre-left Zionist allies, could obtain between 52 and 54 seats.
Likewise, the secular right-wing party Yisrael Beiteinuled, led by Avigdor Lieberman, will receive six to eight seats.
These results are unofficial and not final, knowing that the participation rate in the elections reached 71 per cent.
Partial official results will be announced at a later time, after all the votes, including those of soldiers, diplomats and prisoners, are counted.
According to the polls, the "joint list" of the Arab-Israeli parties will get 14 to 15 seats, the highest representation rate attained by these parties in the history of the Knesset elections, if tuned into a fact.