JERUSALEM:Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secured a clear path to reelection on Wednesday, with religious-rightist parties set to hand him a parliamentary majority despite a close contest against his main centrist challenger, a vote tally showed.

With more than 97 per cent of votes counted, Netanyahus conservative Likud party looked likely to muster enough support to control 65 of the Knessets 120 seats and be named to head the next coalition government a record fifth term as premier.

The close and often vitriolic contest was widely seen in Israel as a referendum on Netanyahus character and record in the face of corruption allegations. He faces possible indictment in three graft cases, and has denied wrongdoing in all of them.

Despite that, Netanyahu gained four seats compared to his outgoing coalition government, according to a spreadsheet published by the Central Elections Committee of parties that won enough votes to enter the next parliament.

It is a night of colossal victory, the 69-year-old Netanyahu told cheering supporters in a late-night speech at Likud headquarters after Tuesdays vote.

Hes a magician, the crowd chanted as fireworks flared and Netanyahu kissed his wife Sara.

Two weeks before the election, Trump signed a proclamation, with Netanyahu at his side at the White House, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

In a rare turn during the race towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu further alarmed Palestinians by pledging to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if re-elected. Palestinians seek a state there and in the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Netanyahus pre-election promise was widely seen as an attempt to draw right-wing votes rather than a change of policy. But with Trumps moves on Jerusalem and The Golan, the prime minister may feel emboldened to advocate for annexation.

Commenting on the election, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said: Israelis have voted to preserve the status quo. They have said no to peace and yes to the occupation.

The last round of US-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in 2014.

Trump is expected to release his administrations long-awaited Middle East peace plan after the election. If it includes Israeli concessions to the Palestinians, Netanyahus probable far-right coalition allies will likely object.

Once the vote tally is final, President Reuven Rivlin will ask parties that have won parliamentary seats who they support for prime minister. He will then pick a party leader to try to form a coalition, giving the candidate 28 days to do so, with a two-week extension if needed.

Agencies

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