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  • The results of the exit polls are shown on a screen at Benny Gantz's Blue and White party headquarters, following Israel's parliamentary election, in Tel Aviv, Israel, September 17, 2019.

    The results of the exit polls are shown on a screen at Benny Gantz's Blue and White party headquarters, following Israel's parliamentary election, in Tel Aviv, Israel, September 17, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 17 September 2019

"Netanyahu has lost, but Gantz hasn't won," said Udi Segal, a prominent Israeli television news anchor.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's battle for political survival looked compromised after exit polls following Tuesday's election showed his party could not secure a majority in Congress.

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The surveys by Israeli television stations gave Netanyahu's far-right Likud 31 seats out of parliament's 120 seats - not enough to reach a 61 majority, compared with 32-34 for the centrist Blue and White led by former general Benny Gantz.

They indicated that Netanyahu's ally-turned-rival, ex-defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, could be the kingmaker, with the backing of his far-right Yisrael Beitenu party critical to the formation of any ruling coalition.

Without Lieberman's support, the polls suggested, Likud could put together a right-wing coalition controlling only up to 57 parliamentary seats, while Blue and White could enlist no more than 58 legislators - meaning both parties falling short of the 61 needed for a governing majority.

Lieberman was forecast to capture 8-10 seats, nearly doubling his current tally in parliament, making him the linchpin.

The election was called after Netanyahu, 69, failed in efforts to cobble together a coalition following an April ballot in which Likud and Blue and White wound up in a dead heat, each taking 35 parliamentary seats. It is the first time Israel has had two general elections in a single year.

As in the election five months ago, his opponents, including Gantz, focused on bribery and fraud allegations against Netanyahu in three corruption cases. The prime minister, due to face a pre-trial hearing in October to argue against the charges being filed, has denied any wrongdoing.

An election loss could leave Netanyahu more at risk of prosecution, without the shield of parliamentary immunity which his political allies had promised to seek for him.

Before the last election, Trump gave Netanyahu a lift with U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, taken from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. This time, the White House seems more preoccupied with Iran.

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