Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party has once again attained a position to form government in Israel, a stunning victory after a tight race that had put his lengthy rule in jeopardy.
Netanyahu's return to power for a fourth term likely spells trouble for Mideast peace efforts and could further escalate tensions with the United States.
With nearly all votes counted, Likud appeared to have earned 30 out of parliament's 120 seats and seems in a position to form a coalition government with its nationalist, religious and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies.
It is feared that he may try to sabotage nuclear negotiations that may put Israel at odds with the international community. He has already earned a bad name over unabated construction settlements, opposition to Palestinian statehood, and continue clashing with the White House over hardline policies.
According to an AP report, the election was widely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu, who has governed the country for the past six years. Recent opinion polls indicated he was in trouble, giving chief rival Isaac Herzog of the opposition Zionist Union a slight lead.
Exit polls Tuesday showed the two sides deadlocked but once the actual results came pouring in early Wednesday, Likud soared forward. Zionist Union wound up with 24 seats. Given the final results, it is all but assured that Israel's largely ceremonial President Reuven Rivlin will ask Netanyahu to forming the new government.
Netanyahu was prompt in saying, "Against all odds, we achieved a great victory for the Likud," even before final results were known”. "I am proud of the people of Israel, who in the moment of truth knew how to distinguish between what is important and what is peripheral, and to insist on what is important."
Netanyahu focused his campaign primarily on security issues, while his opponents instead pledged to address the country's high cost of living and accused the leader of being out of touch with everyday people..
A union of four largely Arab-backed factions became Israel's third largest party — with 14 seats — and gave Israel's Arab minority significant leverage in parliament for the first time. Ten parties in all made it into parliament.
Herzog, who appeared poised only days ago to stage a coup, conceded defeat and signaled that he would not join forces with Netanyahu and would rather head to the opposition.