TEL AVIV - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party won a hard-fought victory against Benny Gantz's rival Blue and White party after a bruising election. The Blue and White party conceded defeat late Wednesday even after winning a substantial number of seats in the Israeli parliament known as the Knesset.
By Wednesday morning, 97 percent of the votes were counted and showed the Likud party tied with Blue and White. As of 9 a.m., Likud had won 26.27 percent of the votes, earning them 35 seats in the Knesset. Blue and White won 25.94 percent, also giving them 35 seats.
However, Israel's broader bloc of right-wing parties won a majority of the 120 Knesset seats, giving Netanyahu the support he needs to form a coalition government and remain prime minister.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked supporters at a victory party in Tel Aviv Tuesday night.
"Remember, 25 years ago, it was the first time that Sara and I stood here. And here we have returned here, because of you and for you," Netanyahu said, adding that his win against Gantz was "almost unprecedented."
Netanyahu's victory was history in the making. He will be Israel's longest-serving prime minister.
Meanwhile, Gantz had held on to the hope of forming his own coalition, but it didn't work out.
Some had speculated that a unity government between Netanyahu and Gantz would help the country heal from a bitter election, and respond to threats from Iran and Hamas.
"We need to see who are the parties that are in the game. So two days from now we'll be smarter about the coalition. But one thing we know about, and for sure, Netanyahu is the next prime minister," said Tzipi Hotovely, Israel's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Although Netanyahu's coalition will be right-wing, he says he wants to make sure all Israelis are represented.
"I intend to work quickly to establish a stable government. I want to make it clear, it will be a right-wing government, but I intend to be the prime minister of all Israeli citizens, right or left, Jews or non-Jews alike, all Israeli citizens," said Netanyahu.
Before the election, the prime minister pledged to annex Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), and said he wouldn’t uproot any of them. Israeli political analyst Elie Pieprz told CBN News it is time.
“The voters, the people, want to apply Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria. There’s no doubt Judea and Samaria are part of Israel and that’s the way Israelis see it,” Pieprz said.
Netanyahu has already spoken with many probable partners in his latest coalition, almost certainly a government of the right. That would include two religious parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism. They finished third and fourth in the voting.
The Times of Israel reports that voter turnout was 67.8 percent, which is down from 2015's 71.8 percent. A spokesperson for the Likud party confirmed to CBN News that voter turnout is low this election.
You can see Israeli election analysis Wednesday on the 700 Club.