Israel election: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims shock victory

Exit polls suggested a deadlock between Likud and the Zionist Union party

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party has achieved a resounding victory in Israel's election according to final polling results released following a tight race.

As the final votes were counted this morning, Likud appeared to have secured 30 out of the 120 seats of the Knessett, giving him the opportunity to build a coalition government with right-wing allies.

The surprise victory came in the face of recent opinion polls which indicated the incumbent would struggle to retain power, as lead rival Isaac Herzog of the opposition Zionist Union had gained a slight lead. With a turnout of 72 per cent according to  BBC News, exit polls also forecast a dead heat, but the final results revealed Likud had soared forward, and Zionist Union claimed only 24 seats.

Claiming victory before the final results were known, Mr Netanyahu declared his party had won “against all odds”, and called the result “a major victory for the people of Israel.”

“Every family, soldier, citizen, Jewish or not are important to me! We will form a strong government to work for them,” he wrote on Twitter.

Mr Herzog has conceded defeat and called the Prime Minister to congratulate him on Likud's win, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Speaking to reporters outside his Tel Aviv home, he said that Israel needed "another voice, a voice that offers an alternative and a voice that tells it the truth".

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon has welcomed Likud's win. Mirroring Mr Netayahu's sentiments, he admitted that the campaign was "challenging and hard", but said that "wisdom prevailed" and only the "experienced and responsible leadership of Likud with Netanyahu at the head knows" can deal with the country's challenges.

British Prime Minister David Cameron was one of the first world leaders to congratulate Mr Netayahu.

But Netanyahu will still need the support of Moshe Kahlon, his former Likud welfare and communications minister, whose Kulanu party captured 10 seats and whose campaign focused almost entirely on the cost of living. He is expected to become the country's next finance minister.

Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party react to exit poll figures

In a statement seen by Ynet, Likud said that Netanyahu had spoken with the leaders of all parties likely to feature in the coalition, and that this process could take up to three weeks.

The vote, which was widely regarded as a referendum on Netanyahu’s leadership, puts him on course to clinch a fourth term and become Israel's longest-serving prime minster.

Netanyahu founded his victory on a campaign focused on security issues in the highly turbulent region, while his opponents instead pledged to address the country's high cost of living and accused the leader of being out of touch with everyday people.

His campaign was marred by a racism row on polling day, after he warned that the country’s Arab citizens were voting in "droves" to prevent him winning.

It is feared that his re-election could spark further tensions with the US, as Netanyahu said he now opposes the creation of a Palestinian state — a key policy goal of the White House and the international community – just two days before the election.

He also promised to expand construction in Jewish areas of east Jerusalem, the section of the city claimed by the Palestinians as their capital.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told the AFP news agency that Palestinians in turn will push forward with legal investigation into war crimes against Palestinians at the International Criminal Court.

The result with 99.5 per cent of votes counted, according to the newspaper Haaretz.

Likud 30 seats
Zionist Union 24
The Joint Arab List 13
Yesh Atid 11
Kulanu 10
Habayit Hayehudi 8
Shas 7
United Torah Judaism 7
Yisrael Beiteinu 6
Meretz 4

Additional reporting by PA