PM rival Gantz congratulates Netanyahu after final results

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to his supporters after polls for Israel's general elections closed in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

JERUSALEM — Benny Gantz, head of the centrist Blue and White party who had challenged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called to congratulate him Friday after Israel's final election results showed the prime minister poised to win a fifth term.

Netanyahu appeared all but certain to form the next government, as the final tally showed his Likud party capturing 36 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, edging past Blue and White, which got 35 seats.

"With all votes now counted and the final results in, I would like to congratulate you on your achievement in the elections," Gantz told Netanyahu. "We will continue serving the country's citizens."

Nationalist and Jewish ultra-Orthodox parties, which Netanyahu calls his "natural allies," commanded a parliamentary majority of 65-55, giving the prime minister a further advantage in forming a coalition.

While ballots were still being counted, the Blue and White leaders officially conceded defeat on Wednesday, and vowed to fight the prime minister from the opposition.

Now, attention shifts to President Reuven Rivlin, who announced he would receive party representatives at his residence on Monday to hear their recommendations for who should be the next prime minister.

After consulting with all elected factions, in order of largest to smallest, about their choices, Rivlin picks the candidate he believes has the best chance of assembling a parliamentary majority. In one of the president's only non-ceremonial roles, he asks that leader to form a government within 42 days.

Rivlin's office said it would take the "pioneering and historic" step of broadcasting the president's discussions with party leaders live "in the name of transparency."

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