Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday emerged victorious after Israel's third election in a year despite a looming corruption trial, dismaying the Palestinians who were angered by his hardline campaign pledges.
Monday's election left the veteran right-winger in prime position to form a government and end a year of political deadlock, after similar votes in April and September proved inconclusive.
The central election committee said it had counted 90 percent of the vote, with breakdowns of the result in the media showing Netanyahu's Likud party with 36 seats in Israel's 120-member parliament.
That would mark the party's best-ever result under Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister and its first to be indicted in office.
Netanyahu's bloc, which includes ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, is likely still one or two votes short of a majority, but his party spokesman said it was confident of luring defectors.
Likud's main challenger, the centrist Blue and White party, was projected to win 32 seats.
Counting its centre-left allies as well as the mainly Arab Joint List alliance, the anti-Netanyahu camp was expected to control 54 to 55 seats.
While there remains no guarantee that Netanyahu can form a coalition, he hailed Monday's election as a "giant" success.
"This is the biggest win of my life," he told supporters in Tel Aviv where people danced, sang and shouted "Bibi, king of Israel," using the premier's nickname.
Netanyahu campaigned on his tough position towards the Palestinians and on expanding Jewish settlements in occupied West Bank.
He also pledged to annex the Jordan Valley, a key part of the West Bank that Palestinian see as crucial for their future state, if he won. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the exit polls showed that "settlement, annexation and apartheid had won".