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Netanyahu Claims Victory In Close Israeli Election

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accompanied by his wife and sons, casts his ballot in Jerusalem on Tuesday as part of parliamentary elections. Netanyahu is expected to remain in power.
Uriel Sinai
Getty Images
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accompanied by his wife and sons, casts his ballot in Jerusalem on Tuesday as part of parliamentary elections. Netanyahu is expected to remain in power.

Update at 4:00 p.m. ET. Netanyahu declares victory.

Less than an hour after the polls closed Tuesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared victory on his Facebook page, saying:

"According to the exit polls, it is clear that Israel citizens decided that they want me to continue to serve as prime minister of Israel, and that I form the widest possible majority (coalition). Already this evening I will begin working toward the widest possible government."

The exit polls, which are not official, of course, show Netanyahu's Likud Party, along with its traditional right-wing and religious allies, getting 61 or 62 seats for a slim majority in the 120-seat parliament, or Knesset.

The center-left parties got the remaining 58 or 59 seats, according to the exit polls.

Netanyahu could reach out to the centrist and leftist parties if he wishes. Israeli governments are always made up of coalitions, and after elections it usually takes a couple weeks of negotiations among the parties before a new government is formed.

Update at 3:35 p.m. ET. Exit polls give narrow win to Netanyahu, right-wing parties.

Citing exit polls, the Israeli mediaand the wire services say that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, along with other right-wing factions, are winning a narrow majority in parliamentary elections.

The exit polls indicated a closer race than had been predicted in pre-election opinion surveys. Right-wing parties did not do as well as expected, while centrists did better than forecast, according to the exit polls.

Still, Netanyahu looks likely to remain prime minister, assuming he can build a coalition.

Official results are expected to arrive in the next couple hours.

Here is the Associated Press report:

In an election on Tuesday far closer than polls forecast, Netanyahu's Likud Party captured just 31 seats, well below expectations. But with his hard-line and religious allies, he would still be able to form a narrow majority in the 120-seat parliament, according to the exit polls.

In the biggest surprise, the centrist "Yesh Atid," party headed by political newcomer Yair Lapid captured as many as 19 seats, well above the forecasts. That would position Lapid to become either opposition leader or seek a major Cabinet post if he decides to join Netanyahu's governing coalition.

Here's our original post:

In a country where coalition governments routinely collapse, the post of prime minister in Israel is not a position for someone seeking job security.

But Benjamin Netanyahu appeared ready to buck that trend and win a third term as Israelis voted Tuesday in parliamentary elections. Netanyahu's hawkish, right-wing coalition has held power for nearly four years, and the country's opinion polls showed his Likud party and potential coalition partners likely to win a majority of parliament's 120 seats.

Netanyahu, 63, has presided over a period when Israel's economy has held up relatively well, and many voters consider him best equipped to guide Israel at a time when there is widespread turbulence in the broader Middle East, including the neighboring countries of Egypt and Syria.

However, Netanyahu, who also served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999, has not made any significant progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while in office, and there is no prospect of any movement on the horizon.

The Israeli leader has also warned repeatedly that his country will not accept a nuclear-armed Iran, and that the day is looming when Israel may have to act unilaterally.

While that issue made international headlines much of last year, it was largely ignored by all parties and candidates during the campaign, which tended to focus on domestic concerns.

The polls close at 10 p.m. Israeli time (3 p.m. ET), and we will update this post as results become available.

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Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.