Netanyahu made no victory claim or concession of defeat in a speech to his Likud party after exit polls showed no clear winner in an election race that was too close to call.
Netanyahu said he would await official results and said he would work toward establishing "a strong Zionist government" that would reflect the views of "many of the nation's people." The surveys by Israeli TV stations gave Netanyahu's right-wing Likud 31 to 33 of parliament's 120 seats, versus 32 to 34 for centrist Blue and White led by former General Benny Gantz.
Neither had enough support, at first glance, for a governing coalition of 61 legislators, and Netanyahu's ally-turned-rival, former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, emerged as a likely kingmaker as head of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu party.
Without Yisrael Beitenu's projected eight to 10 seats, stalemate would ensue: Likud would have the support of only up to 57 legislators for a right-wing coalition, and Blue and White could enlist no more than 59 for a centre-left government.