Netanyahu wins big in Israeli election

Netanyahu wins big in Israeli election
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Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE has won a convincing victory in Israel's elections and will now work to set up a new government.

With 99 percent of the votes counted, The Times of Israel reported Wednesday that Netanyahu's Likud Party had taken the largest number of seats in Israel's parliament, winning 30 of the 120 seats. The runner-up party of opposition leader Isaac Herzog, the Zionist Union, followed with 24 seats.

Herzog conceded defeat to Netanyahu, who will now work to form a coalition government, likely through talks with leaders representing right-wing and Orthodox parties.

The New York Times reported that several such parties could give Netanyahu's coalition 67 seats in the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

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“I am proud of the Israeli people that, in the moment of truth, knew how to separate between what’s important or what’s not and to stand up for what’s important,” Netanyahu said early Wednesday morning at his Likud's election party in Tel Aviv, according to The New York Times.

“For the most important thing for all of us, which is real security, social economy and strong leadership," he added.

Netanyahu celebrated his victory with a Wednesday evening visit to the Western Wall, Judaism’s most sacred site. Once there, he thanked Israelis for letting him keep his position.

“I deeply value the decision by Israeli citizens to choose me and my colleagues against all odds and against major forces,” Netanyahu said. He added that he “feels honored by the responsibility that the Israeli people placed on my shoulders.”  

Rounding out the results were eight other parties. The Joint (Arab) List won 14 seats, Yesh Atid won 11, Kulanu won 10, and the Jewish Home took 8.

Other representatives elected were from Shas, 7, United Torah Judaism, 6, Yisrael Beytenu, 6 and the Meretz party with 4.

Exit polls on Tuesday found Israel’s parliamentary elections were too close to call, and Netanyahu had trailed in many polls leading up to the vote.

The stunning turnaround followed moves to shore up his support among conservative voters.

On the eve of his country's elections, Netanyahu said he would not allow the establishment of a Palestinian state if reelected. He also warned that Israeli Arab voters were rushing to the polls, statements intended to get his supporters to turn out to vote.

Netanyahu's government has a tense relationship with the Obama administration, and further ill feelings were fostered by the Israeli prime minister's decision to give a speech to Congress two weeks ago blasting the White House's effort to secure a nuclear deal with Iran. 

The White House had remained officially neutral in the elections.

“President Obama remains committed to working very closely with the winner of the ongoing elections to cement and further deepen the strong relationship between the United States and Israel," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday afternoon. “The president is confident that he can do that with whomever the Israeli people choose.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a potential 2016 presidential contender, congratulated Netanyahu, saying in a statement that "his electoral success is all the more impressive given the powerful forces that tried to undermine him, including, sadly, the full weight of the Obama political team."

"I think this is a pretty clear mandate that the people of Israel respect and appreciate a very strong leader, and that is what Bibi Netanyahu has been," Carly Fiorina, another potential GOP candidate, said on CNN's "New Day." 

— Jesse Byrnes, Jordan Fabian, Ben Kamisar, Mark Hensch and David McCabe contributed to this report, which was updated at 10:01 a.m.