Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu looks to form right-wing government after victory

Final official results are expected to be announced by Friday

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is greeted by supporters of his Likud party as he arrives to speak following the announcement of exit polls in Israel's parliamentary election at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to form a right-wing governing coalition on Thursday after winning the Israeli election despite a strong challenge from a centrist alliance.

The results from Tuesday's vote came despite corruption allegations against Mr Netanyahu, 69, and kept him on course to this year become Israel's longest-serving prime minister.

The allegations are likely to play an important role in coalition negotiations as many analysts expect him to demand pledges from partners to stay in his government if he is indicted.

Mr Netanyahu will rely in part on politicians of the nationalist right, who are opposed to a Palestinian state, to form his government.

His current government is already regarded as the most right-wing in Israel's history, and his next is expected to be similar if not even further to the right.

Mr Netanyahu, in a campaign pledge just three days before polling day, vowed to begin annexing settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Applying sovereignty there on a large scale could effectively end remaining hopes for a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Mr Netanyahu's pledge was widely seen as an appeal to the far right and it appears to have worked.

He boosted the number of parliamentary seats for his Likud party, while smaller, far-right parties struggled.

The Likud said late on Wednesday that Mr Netanyahu "will form a right-wing government and he is already in advanced negotiations with the national camp partners".

He had only one public event scheduled for Thursday. Israel is expected to land its first spacecraft on the moon and Mr Netanyahu was planning to watch it from the control room.

The election was seen as a referendum on the veteran prime minister, who has built a reputation as guarantor of Israel's security and economic growth, but whose divisive right-wing populism and alleged corruption led to calls for change.

The results reflected his deft political skills, Israel's shift to the right and wide satisfaction with Mr Netanyahu's achievements, but also the fact that many voters are fed up with him.

The centrist Blue and White alliance put together by former military chief Benny Gantz will finish with a similar number of seats to the Likud even though it came together less than two months before the polls.

But Mr Gantz's alliance, which conceded defeat on Wednesday night, could not take enough right-wing votes to unseat Mr Netanyahu.

The results showed that the Likud, together with other right-wing parties allied to the prime minister, would hold about 65 of 120 seats in Parliament.

Final official results are expected to be announced by Friday.

President Reuven Rivlin, who must ask one of the candidates to form a government, has little choice but to pick Mr Netanyahu after consultations with party heads next week.

Intensive coalition negotiations could drag on for days or even weeks.

Mr Netanyahu has been Prime Minister for a total of more than 13 years.

But "King Bibi", as some have called him, now faces the prospect of becoming the first sitting prime minister to be indicted.

The attorney general has announced that he intends to charge Mr Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust pending a hearing.