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The road to the general election was paved by Netanyahu making every effort to impress, trying to improve Israel's standing on the world stage.

Regardless of who becomes the next prime minister, the election has already proven to be a humbling setback for Mr. Netanyahu, 69, who has built a strong economy, kept the country safe and has been promoted by President Trump.

Leader of the Blue and White Party Benny Gantz said on Wednesday morning that despite the results that appeared to give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a fifth term in office and a large lead to the right-wing bloc, nothing was final yet.

With some 97 percent of votes in Tuesday's contest counted, his Likud party was tied with Blue and White, but his right-wing/ultra-Orthodox bloc held a decisive lead and Netanyahu was thus safely en route to forming a majority governing coalition.

President Donald Trump is congratulating Benjamin Netanyahu as he appears to be headed for a fifth term as prime minister of Israel.

The results do not include the votes of soldiers, prisoners and diplomats, which are expected to be counted by Thursday afternoon and could affect the numbers.

Challenged on election day, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, refused to say what the USA would do if the Israeli government tried to annex parts of the West Bank.

"Look, everyone said - and I never made it a promise - but everybody said you can't have peace in the Middle East with Israel and the Palestinians", Trump said. "I think we have a chance and I think we now have a better chance", he said.

The Hadash-Ta'al Arab Party won five seats, and the Balad-Ra'am list won four, which means the Arab parties will have significantly less representation in the 21st Knesset than they did in the 20th Knesset, when they united as the Joint Arab List.

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Only half of the Arab voters cast their ballots in the election despite appeals by the leaders of the Arab parties.

Later in the day, the U.S. president turned to Twitter to share a photo of Netanyahu's victory celebration from Tuesday night.

"It's a night of tremendous victory", Netanyahu told supporters early Wednesday. The attorney general has recommended a series of criminal charges against the prime minister but will only make a decision on indicting him after a legally mandated hearing. "I was very moved that the nation of Israel once again entrusted me for the fifth time, and with an even greater trust".

The semi-official results of the Israeli elections were the Likud party headed by Benjamin Netanyahu and the Blue and White alliance headed by Gabi Gantz, each won 35 seats in the next Knesset. Of that number, only 15 percent of an estimated 1.9 million Arab voters turned up at polling stations.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Israel "must put aside the populism and the rhetoric, it must abandon its aggressive stance", now that the elections are over.

In the final days of the election, Netanyahu launched what Israeli political commentators dubbed a "gevalt strategy", a Yiddish expression for alarm, aimed at motivating complacent supporters to get out and vote or risk his defeat at the hands of a resurgent left-wing.

Seibert told reporters that "Israel lies in a region with enormous challenges, which is why it's important to form a government quickly".

He engaged in populist rhetoric that critics said amounted to the demonisation of Arab Israelis and others.