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Netanyahu and Gantz both declare victory in Israel's elections

Votes being counted in Israel's election
Votes being counted in Israel's election 01:28

Both Prime Minister Netanyahu and the leaders of the rival Blue and White party, former military chief Benny Gantz and centrist politician Yair Lapid, have declared victory in Israel's elections as murky exit-poll predictions rolled in. Netanyahu announced Tuesday: "A right-wing bloc led by the Likud party won a clear victory. I thank the citizens of Israel for the trust." 

Gantz and Lapid also declared: "We won! The Israeli public has had their say!" 

They added: "These elections have a clear winner and a clear loser," saying, "the president can see the picture and should call on the winner to form the next government. There is no other option!"

Israeli exit polls, however, indicated Likud and the rival Blue and White party are locked in a race that is too close to call, The Associated Press reported. Channels 12 and Kan TV gave the Blue and White party, headed by Gantz, a narrow lead over the Likud, while Channel 10 TV showed them in a tie in Tuesday's vote. 

The channels also gave different breakdowns for possible coalitions, with two stations giving Netanyahu's right-wing bloc a slight parliamentary majority while Channel 12 had them tied at 60 seats apiece.

Israeli election is too close call 05:36

The centrist Blue and White alliance of Gantz was projected to win 36 or 37 seats, with Netanyahu's Likud party taking 33 to 36, BBC News reports. But two exit polls predicted that right-wing parties allied to Netanyahu were more likely to be able to form a governing coalition.

Official results are expected to come in overnight for the race, which had been expected to be one of the country's tightest elections in years. Voters, including the candidates themselves, cast ballots to determine the future of Israel, where the electorate is increasingly conservative, hawkish and religious, CBS News' Seth Doane reported. 

"It shows the world that we have like a true democracy and that we can make a change here," voter Guy Ginton told CBS News, noting that it was a right, "a lot of the Middle East doesn't have."    

A combination picture shows Benny Gantz (left), leader of Blue and White party voting at a polling station in Rosh Ha'ayin and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voting at a polling station in Jerusalem during Israel's parliamentary election
Benny Gantz, left, and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 9, 2019. NIR ELIAS/REUTERS

The election is being seen as a referendum on Netanyahu, who is fighting to win his fifth term in office. If he succeeds, he will be on track to become Israel's longest-serving leader.     

Doane said that while there are 41 parties on the ballot, there's only one real decision: "yes" or "no" to Netanyahu who is facing corruption allegations and stiff competition. 

He has campaigned heavily on his closeness to President Trump.

"Netanyahu had eight years with Obama -- he survived Obama -- and then he won the lottery," veteran Israeli journalist and TV 13 political analyst Barak Ravid told Doane. "Trump is basically giving him everything he wants."

The U.S. has moved its embassy to Jerusalem and just last month recognized Israeli sovereignty over the disputed Golan Heights. Throughout the campaign, Netanyahu has underlined those diplomatic coups.

CBS News asked Benny Gantz about that relationship with Mr. Trump and America. He said he believed the relationships between countries were stronger than those between individual leaders.

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