Benjamin Netanyahu edges ahead, but no clear victor emerges in Israel election

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By the time I went to bed, both men had given victory speeches.

After polls closed on Tuesday, former defense minister and leader of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, Avigdor Lieberman, told Israeli news site Haartez that he did not believe the exit polls were accurate, accusing pollsters of "manipulation and psychological warfare".

Rival Gantz, 59, earlier also claimed victory, citing preliminary exit polls that showed his party had won more seats than Likud. It remains unclear if he will follow through on this promise, but with US President Donald Trump by his side, supporting his claims on Jerusalem and the occupied Golan Heights, he can be sure that Washington will back him if he chose to extend Israeli sovereignty to the settlements.

Gantz, a newcomer to politics, mounted a strong challenge by brandishing his security credentials while pledging to undo damage he says Netanyahu has inflicted on the country with divisive politics.

Another big victor in this election is Israeli democracy itself. He then thanked his supporters and reiterated his commitment to them as well as to citizens who did not vote for him.

The hints that the plan could be published before a new Israeli government is established centered around a reported hope in Washington that publication in the midst of the government-forming process would result in Mr. Netanyahu choosing government coalition partners who would accept the plan.

- The attorney general however has announced his intention to charge Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust pending a hearing, with proceedings set to begin in the coming months.

"We are the victors", Gantz said.

The election commission will release its final results by Friday. Speaking to his Likud lawmakers on the day the election was called he said the outgoing government had "outstanding achievements" on which to campaign.

The election has emerged as a referendum on Netanyahu and his 13 years overall in power, with the existential questions facing Israel rarely being discussed in the campaign.

"The coalition, it's not clear yet, because we need to see who are the parties that are in the game". Channel 12 TV had Blue and White with 37 seats to Likud's 33 seats, while Kan TV put Blue and White ahead 37-36.

People don't call Benjamin Netanyahu "the magician" for nothing.

On Wednesday morning, with more than 97 per cent of the votes counted, Mr Netanyahu appeared the most likely candidate to be able to form a coalition government.

Though both parties were well short of a majority in the 120-seat parliament, the polls showed Likud and its religious and nationalist allies controlling a solid majority. Gantz was the chief of staff of the nation's army, the Israeli Defense Force, for four years under Netanyahu.

Commenting on the election, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said: "Israelis have voted to preserve the status quo".

But Gantz and Netanyahu may not be as different as they wanted voters to think.

Netanyahu-who has shepherded his party and country markedly to the right since being re-elected in 2015-secured alliances with a number of far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties in the lead up to the election.

Tel Aviv Stock Exchange main indexes were up almost one per cent in late trading on Wednesday, displaying confidence in a veteran prime minister who has overseen a humming economy and blunted various security threats, including from Syria.