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.”
In pictures: Israel election
In pictures: Israel election
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Benjamin Netanyahu prays at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem following Likud's victory in Israel's general election
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The motorcade carrying Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drives across the plaza before the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kisses his wife Sara as he claims victory in Tel Aviv
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Isaac Herzog, right, and Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union party make statements in their headquarters on their party's future role following its decisive loss in the Israeli general election
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Co-leader of the Zionist Union party, Israeli Labour Party leader Isaac Herzog, delivers a speech as he reacts to exit poll figures, in Tel Aviv
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Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrate as election results come in at his election campaign headquarters in Tel Aviv
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Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party react to exit poll figures
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Likud Party supporters celebrate after the exit polls were announced, at the party's headquarters in Tel Aviv
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A screen displays exit poll results showing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin's Netanyahu Likud party and Isaac Herzog's centre-left Zionist Union neck-and-neck, in Tel Aviv
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Copies of ballot papers and campaign posters for Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party lie on the ground in the aftermath of the country's parliamentary elections
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Vandalized posters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near a polling station in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, near Hebron
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A woman waves an Israeli national flag outside a polling station in Tel Aviv
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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts his ballot for the parliamentary election at a polling station in Jerusalem
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Israeli MP and chairperson of center-right Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid, takes a selfie with his wife Lihi (R) and his supporters, outside a polling station in Tel Aviv
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Ultra orthodox Jews line up to vote in Bnei Brak
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Israeli Arab political leader and head of a joint list of Arab parties, Ayman Odeh, casts his ballot with his children at a polling station in the coastal city oh Haifa
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Isaac Herzog (standing in foreground on L), co-leader of the centre-left Zionist Union party, poses next to his wife Michal as he casts his vote for the parliamentary election at a polling station in Tel Aviv
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An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man casts his ballot at a polling station in Jerusalem
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An Israeli ceections committee worker prepare ballots at a polling station for the Israeli general elections in the city of Haifa
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A supporter of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, or Sephardic Torah Guardians, holds a campaign poster depicting the party's spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, in Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv. Israel's Sephardic community, Jews of Middle Eastern descent, have traditionally been the Likud party's backbone. But political analysts say Sephardim may throw their support elsewhere in the March 17 election, angry over the high cost of living and housing prices
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, visits a construction site in Har Homa, east Jerusalem, a day ahead of legislative elections. Netanyahu is seeking his fourth term as prime minister
Against all odds:a great victory for the Likud. A major victory for the people of Israel!— בנימין נתניהו (@netanyahu) March 17, 2015
This is a great victory for our nation. I'm proud of people of Israel who in the moment of truth knew what was important.— בנימין נתניהו (@netanyahu) March 17, 2015
Every family, soldier, citizen, Jewish or not are important to me! We will form a strong government to work for them.— בנימין נתניהו (@netanyahu) March 17, 2015
We will lower housing prices & the cost of living. #Israelelex— בנימין נתניהו (@netanyahu) March 17, 2015
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.
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
Habayit Hayehudi 8
United Torah Judaism 7
Yisrael Beiteinu 6
Additional reporting by PAReuse content