JERUSALEM: Israel's Blue and White party leaders are conceding defeat in Israel's election, saying they will work against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the opposition.
Yair Lapid, the party's No. 2 figure, told a press conference Wednesday that though his party "did not win in this round, I respect the voters." He said his party will "embitter" Netanyahu's life from the opposition.
The Blue and White party, headed by former army chief of staff Benny Gantz, drew even with Netanyahu's Likud party, but the incumbent prime minister is poised to form a government with his larger bloc of religious and nationalist allies.
Netanyahu looked set to be able to stay in power with the support of religious-rightist parties, although both Likud and Blue and White won the same number of seats in the 120-member parliament.
Gantz says his party has "founded a true alternative rule to Netanyahu."
“It is a night of colossal victory,” the 69-year-old Netanyahu told cheering supporters in a late-night speech at Likud headquarters after Tuesday’s vote.
“He’s a magician,” the crowd chanted as fireworks flared and Netanyahu kissed his wife Sara.
Tel Aviv Stock Exchange main indexes opened up 0.5 percent on Wednesday, showing confidence in a prime minister who has overseen a humming economy and restrained security challenges.
His challenger, the new Blue and White party of ex-general Benny Gantz, claimed a more modest victory after winning a 35-seat tie with Likud. Unless he reverses on campaign pledges to shun Netanyahu, and joins him in a future broad coalition, Gantz looked destined to lead a center-left parliamentary opposition.
“The skies may look overcast...but they cannot conceal the sun of hope that we have brought to the Israeli people and society,” Gantz, 59, wrote in an open letter to supporters.
Netanyahu will become the longest-serving Israeli prime minister in July once his coalition is confirmed, overtaking the country’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion. That could be scuppered if criminal charges are filed and force his removal.