By JOSEF FEDERMAN and ARON HELLER, Associated Press
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main challenger, former military chief Benny Gantz, were locked in a neck and neck race Tuesday as exit polls showed no clear winner in an election that was seen as a referendum on the long-serving leader.
With final results hours away, the early indications were that Netanyahu suffered a setback by failing to score a decisive victory. The 69-year-old prime minister’s fate is clouded by a series of corruption investigations.
Two Israeli TV stations showed Gantz’s Blue and White Party with a narrow lead over the Likud, while a third exit poll showed them deadlocked.
Yet two of the polls gave the Likud and its hard-line allies the upper hand in being able to form a parliamentary coalition, and a third poll put the two blocs in a tie.
In separate statements, both declared victory.
“We won! The Israeli public has had their say!” the Blue and White party said. “These elections have a clear winner and a clear loser.”
It urged the Israeli president to “call on the winner to form the next government. There is no other option!”
Netanyahu said his right-wing bloc won a “clear victory.”
“I thank the citizens of Israel for the trust. I will already begin building a right-wing government with our natural partners tonight,” he said.
Israeli exit polls are notoriously imprecise, meaning the final results could still swing in either direction. Official results weren’t expected until Wednesday morning.