UPDATED: Netanyahu claims narrow victory in Israel election

UPDATE: After an election that went right down to the wire, Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party have claimed a fifth successive victory in Israel.

While the right-wing party will not win enough seats to rule on its own, it will be able to form a coalition with nationalist allies.

The election had been seen as the toughest challenge the powerful Netanyahu had faced, particularly given the corruption charges hanging over him. It was also seen as a pivotal election for the West Bank.

PREVIOUSLY: Both sides had claimed victory.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed victory for his Likud party in the election.

“The right bloc in the Likud led won a definite victory,” a translation of his tweet read. “I thank the citizens of Israel for the trust. I will start by assembling a right government with our natural partners tonight.”

Opposing alliance Blue and White, led by former Military Chief Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid, also said they had won. Gantz would be Prime Minister for the next two years if Blue and White win.

Some exit polls suggested a victory for Netanyahu on the basis of a right-wing alliance that would help him form government. Another exit poll forecast the centre-left alliance would win enough seats to govern. Yet another suggested Israel was heading for a hung parliament.

“We won! The Israeli public has had its say!” Blue and White said in a statement. “These elections have a clear winner and a clear loser.”

Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth had a novel solution to the knife’s edge election result, printing the faces of both Netanyahu and Gantz on the cover with the headline ‘The Next Prime Minister’.

What will the election result mean for the two-state solution?

Chief Palestianian Negotiator Saeb Erekat concluded that Israel has voted to “maintain the status quo”.

“The fact that so far only 18 out of 120 elected members of the Israeli parliament support the two state solution on the 1967 border is a consequence of the culture of impunity granted to Israel.

“Now the international community has no excuse. Refusal to hold Israel accountable means complicity with perpetual occupation and apartheid,” he said.

Netanyahu had told Israeli television: “We will move to the next stage, the imposing of Israeli sovereignty.”

More than 2.5 million people live in The West Bank, which Israel has controlled since 1967. Palestinians and many in the international community see it as illegally occupied land.

If Netanyahu prevails and follows through on his promise, which was seen as a move to shore up support among right-wing voters, he would effectively draw the curtain on the two-state solution.

Blue and White equivocated on the conflict with Palestine before finally unveiling their official position on the issue in early March. Yair Lapid, who would succeed Benny Gantz as Prime Minister in two years if the alliance wins, said they would seek a peace deal with the Palestinians.

This would be based on the Israeli military being allowed to enter Palestinian land to prevent terrorist attacks, a rejection of the ‘Palestinian right of return’, Jerusalem remaining the sole capital of Israel and the Jordan Valley remaining part of Israel.

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