Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party has won a surprise victory in Israel’s general election.

The centre-left Zionist Union party had led the polls up until election day, and exit polls had the two parties in a dead heat, but after the votes were counted, Likud was found to have won a decisive victory.

Part of the swing may have been down to Netanyahu’s comments on the final days before the polls opened, where he appeared to lurch to the right to gain support from ultra-nationalist Israelis. He warned his supporters that Israeli Arabs were ‘voting in droves’ and promised that there would be no Palestinian state under his leadership and settlement building in the West Bank would continue.

The prime minister now has a strong chance of forming a right-wing coalition government on the back of Likud’s 30 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

The opposition Zionist Union won 24 seats, and the Join Arab List, an alliance of Israeli Arab parties, came third with 14 seats.

Netanyahu is now on course to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, after what he described as a “great victory” for Likud.

In a speech to supporters after the vote counts were announced, the prime minister said he planned to immediately start building a coalition government and had already spoken to possible coalition partners, including ultra-Orthodox groups and the centrist Kulanu.

Whilst heads of state around the world congratulated Netanyahu, known as “Bibi”, for his election win, his comments about Palestine will likely worsen his relationship with the US and Europe, who see the continued construction of illegal settlements on the West Bank as one of the major roadblocks to peace.

Palestinian diplomats have also commented that Bibi’s win will mean that they will intensify their diplomatic efforts to create a internationally recognised Palestinian state and bring Israel in front of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for its continued occupation.

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