Obama aide congratulates Israelis, but not Netanyahu

Netanyahu, Obama
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White House political director David Simas early Wednesday congratulated the "Israeli people" after Benjamin Netanyahu claimed victory in his country's parliamentary elections but did not mention the Israeli prime minister by name.

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"We want to congratulate the Israeli people for the democratic process, for the election that they just engaged in with all the parties that engaged in that election," Simas said on CNN's "New Day."

"As you know, now the hard work of coalition building begins. Sometimes that takes a couple of weeks, and we're going to give space to the formation of that coalition government, and we're not going to weigh in one way or another, except to say that the United States and Israel have an historic and close relationship, and that will continue going forward," he added.

The White House did not formally congratulate Netanyahu, but it did release details of an upcoming Obama trip to Panama and Jamaica in April. 

The White House also tweeted Obama's picks for the NCAA basketball tournament Wednesday morning.

Netanyahu claimed victory early Wednesday after his Likud party appeared to have won 30 of the parliament's 120 seats, according to multiple reports. The final tally has not yet been released.

Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Zionist Union who campaigned to repair U.S.-Israeli relations, said he called Netanyahu to congratulate him.

The relationship between Netanyahu and the White House has been fraught with tension, which escalated in recent months with the Obama administration's push to secure a deal over Iran's nuclear program.

President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry all skipped Netanyahu's address to a joint session of Congress earlier this month.

Netanyahu trailed in polls leading up to the election but shored up support among conservative voters after saying on the eve of the election he would not allow a Palestinian state to be established during his term.