(April 9, 2019 / JNS) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared an “incredible victory” as emerging results for Israel’s general election on Tuesday showed Likud with a clear lead.
“This is an unimaginable achievement,” Netanyahu told jubilant supporters at Likud Party headquarters in Tel Aviv in the early hours of Wednesday morning. “I am very moved tonight, a night of tremendous victory. I am very excited that the people of Israel once again trusted me for the fifth time and with greater confidence.”
“I believe that God and history gave the Jewish people another opportunity to turn their country into a strong nation, and that’s what I’m working for,” he said.
With more than 3.4 million ballots counted as of early Wednesday morning in Israel, Likud had 27 percent of the votes, ahead of Blue and White at 25.9 percent. At the same time, Israel’s Channel 12 and Channel 13 both updated their exit polls, giving Likud a 35-34 seat lead over Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.
Despite an emerging lead in the ballot results, Netanyahu did recommend patience until the final results are in.
“A long night—maybe a long day—is still ahead of us, and we will wait for the final results,” he said.
However, the Israeli leader said he has spoken to a number of right-wing party heads, and “nearly all of them” have declared that they will support him to form the next government.
An Israel Hayom report also indicated that Netanyahu may ask Kulanu Party leader Moshe Kahlon, a former Likud member, to merge with Likud, thereby making it the largest party.
Kahlon has already said that he would back Netanyahu as prime minister.
‘It’s definitely a victory’
An emotional Netanyahu, who thanked supporters, said he intends to be a leader of all Israelis: “The next government will be a right-wing government. Yet I intend to be the prime minister of all Israelis, right and left, Jews and non-Jews alike.”
When the polls first closed at 10 p.m. local time, Likud members were cautious with initial exit poll results that put Gantz ahead.
Nevertheless, key party members said they were confident that Netanyahu would remain Israel’s leader as more results rolled in.
“We know the next prime minister of Israel will be Netanyahu,” Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Hotovely told JNS. “At the moment, he is creating his next coalition.”
Sharren Haskel, Likud’s youngest member, told JNS that “it’s definitely a victory.”
“Our group of the coalition of the right-wing [parties] grew as well, so it shored more secure and more trust that they are giving to us, so yes, it is definitely a win,” she said.
Just hours before Netanyahu’s speech, Gantz addressed his supporters in Tel Aviv as well. The former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces also declared himself the victor, saying that he would be the next prime minister.
“Yes, friends, I will be the prime minister of everyone and not just those who voted for me. No one from a party that is not ours should worry. We all need to think about how we can work together, how we can bring everyone into the discussion,” he said.
JNS reporter Josh Hasten contributed to this story.