Israel's former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was poised to return to power, saying on Wednesday that his right-wing camp was on the cusp of a resounding election win.
With around 84 percent of the vote counted, according to the Central Elections Committee, Netanyahu could be set for a dramatic comeback. Prime Minister Yair Lapid's short-lived ruling coalition hailed largely from the center-left appeared to collapse.
Final results are expected on Friday. The hundreds of thousands of remaining ballots — mostly from those who voted away from their regular place of residency, in nursing homes and elsewhere — have to be cross-checked for accuracy, a more time-consuming effort. They could lend a boost to Netanyahu's opponents, reducing the size of his majority.
"We have won a huge vote of confidence from the people of Israel," a smiling Netanyahu told cheering supporters at his Likud party election headquarters.
"We are on the brink of a very big victory."
Netanyahu, with his voice hoarse from weeks of campaigning across the country, vowed to form a "stable, national government".
The record 12-year consecutive reign of Israel's longest-serving prime minister ended in June 2021 when centrist Lapid managed to stitch together an unlikely coalition government of liberals, rightists and Arab parties.
But the fragile alliance unraveled a year into its rule.
Lapid has stopped short of conceding the election and said he would wait until the final count.
"The people want a different way. They want security," Netanyahu said.
"They want power, not weakness… they want diplomatic wisdom, but with firmness."
Israel's fifth election in less than four years was dominated by the outsized personality of Netanyahu, whose legal battles have fed the stalemate blocking Israel's political system since 2019 and deepened the split between his supporters and opponents.
The campaign was shaken up by West Bank settler Itamar Ben-Gvir and his Religious Zionism list, now set to be the third-largest party in parliament after surging in from the political margins.
In an apparent attempt to allay fears abroad, Netanyahu, who in 2020 forged formal diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, said a government under his leadership would act responsibly, avoid "unnecessary adventures "and "expand the circle of peace".
Nonetheless, his possible comeback reinforced Palestinian skepticism that a political solution to the conflict was likely.