Both Bibi and Rival Claim Victory in Israeli Parliament Elections

Neither Likud Party nor opposition received a majority, leaving Netanyahu poised for record-setting fifth term…

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Benjamin Netanyahu/Photo by Utenriksdept (CC)

(Noga Tarnopolsky and Laura King, Los Angeles Times) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival both claimed victory in Tuesday’s election after exit polls pointed to a very narrow loss for Netanyahu—but one that might leave the prime minister better positioned to form a coalition government.

Exit polls showed both Netanyahu’s Likud Party and his chief rival Benny Gantz’s new Blue and White Party winning 36 to 37 seats in the Knesset, or parliament. Neither of those is enough for a parliamentary majority.

Netanyahu said his conservative bloc had triumphed, though he did not claim an outright win for Likud. Gantz also claimed: “We won!”

All 120 seats in the Knesset were up for grabs after a hard-fought race that has been shadowed by a corruption indictment hanging over Netanyahu, who has dominated Israeli politics for more than a decade.

If he manages to remain in office, the 69-year-old Netanyahu this summer would become the longest-serving prime minister since founding father David Ben–Gurion. This would be his fourth consecutive term and his fifth overall.

Gantz is a former military chief of staff. The 59-year-old is a political neophyte but is widely respected for his military background.

Gantz and his wife, Revital, voted Tuesday in their hometown of Rosh Hayin, then visited the cemetery where Gantz’s parents are buried. Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, voted in Jerusalem; late Monday night, he visited the Western Wall, tweeting a picture of himself there.

Election day is a national holiday in Israel, and families swarmed beaches, shopping malls and restaurants. About 6.3 million people were eligible to vote.

Netanyahu’s camp sought to rally his backers with an election day video expressing fears that too many of his voters might sit out the balloting. But he was likely bolstered by a low turnout among the country’s Arab sector, which generally opposes him.

Netanyahu, whose image is mainly built around national security, made an appeal to right-wing voters, pledging over the weekend to begin applying Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Such a move could upend decades of peace efforts and would be regarded as illegal by most of the international community.

Although a recent investigation had left the prime minister fighting for his political future, Netanyahu has received considerable support from the Trump White House.

He played up his close relationship with President Donald Trump, plastering the country with giant billboards showing the two leaders together. And the Trump administration’s designation Monday of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization was seen by many as an election-eve gift to the premier.

Netanyahu last month got a campaign boost from Washington when Trump announced the United States would recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the strategic plateau seized from Syria in 1967. That also flies in the face of a general international consensus, as did Trump’s move of the U.S. Embassy last year from Tel Aviv to disputed Jerusalem.

 (Special correspondent Tarnopolsky reported from Jerusalem and staff writer Laura King from Washington.)

 (c)2019 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.