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Isaac Herzog Benjamin Netanyahu Israeli elections
A combination picture shows Isaac Herzog (L), co-leader of the centre-left Zionist Union party, briefing the foreign media in Jerusalem, in a file picture taken February 24, 2015, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attending a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem March 8, 2015.Reuters
  • Elections called last December by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu
  • Incumbent prime minister neck and neck with centre-left Zionist Union led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni
  • There are 5,881,696 Israelis eligible to vote for the 120-member Knesset
  • Voter turnout was highest since 1999
20:01

As the polls close in Israel, that is it from our live blog.

The exit polls will begin to trickle in over the next hour or so but even at this early stage it is clear that it has been very, very close. Two Israeli TV channels had Likud and Zionist Unity tied at 27-27 and 28-27 respectively.

As the votes are counted, both Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party and Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni's Zionist Unity coalition will be waiting to see if they have inched ahead and, as a result, are asked to form a government.

Even then, forming a workable coalition could take days, with some Israeli journalists predicting that Wednesday could bring even more uncertainty.

Keep your eyes peeled at IBTimes.co.uk for news of the final result.

19:38

Punits and journalists are predicting that there may not be a result in the Israeli election tonight.

19:28

Israel's Channel 2 news have got the two front-runners neck and neck, with Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni's Zionist coalition one seat ahead, on 28 seats to Likud's 27. Channel 10 has the two parties on 27.

Exit polls should start to come in very soon after the polls close.

19:19

Our reporter Damian Pachter is in the thick of things at the Zionist Unity party election night bunker with 45 minutes left before the polls close.

He says that the venue is full of journalists and that although neither political activists or candidates have arrived yet: "Expectation is in the air"

19:13

Just under 50 minutes left until polls close, but journalist Dimi Reider says there is still plenty of time.

19:09

Jerusalem Post's Ben Hartman spent this morning at a prison in Israel, talking to inmates about who they are voting for. He now reports that turnout amongst prisoners in Israel is at 81.74%.

He found most opting for left wing parties and Arab prisoners rooting for the Joint List of Ayman Odeh, which is poised for a record win today.

You can read his report here.

19:00

The Joint List of Arab parties headed by Haifa lawyer Ayman Odeh has launched a last minute get-out-the-vote campaign on Facebook, urging Arab voters in Israel to turn out against Avignor Lieberman and other right wing Israeli parties.

They say that Arab turnout is now at 55 per cent and another 15 per cent turnout would allow them to seriously dent far right parties such as that of Lieberman, who last week called for Arabs to be beheaded if they did not support Israel.

18:55

Likud has been bombarding its supporters with text messages today urging them to go out and vote and openly stoking anti-Arab sentiments.

Both Benjamin Netanyahu and his foreign minister Avignor Lieberman have also sought to persuade Israeli voters that choosing Zionist Unity over Likud would encourage terrorism in the country.

18:51

Daniel Levy, at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told IBTimesUK that Benjamin Netanyahu's speaking out against a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine was a new departure for the prime minister - even if his policies had always guaranteed the impossibility of either two states or peace.

"Netanyahu's rhetorical embrace [of the two state solution] at least allowed one to maintain the make-believe of having a peace process [...] Now we have the remarkable spectacle of Netanyahu having unmasked himself, which will make things more interesting if [he] wins," he said.

But he added that a vote against the prime minister was not neccessarily a vote in favour of either a two state-solution - or indeed peace.

"If Netanyahu loses, I would argue that this was a vote against Netanyahu not a vote for peace, that Israelis were more focused on the cost of living than the risk of dying," he said.

18:42

Voter turnout is up to 65.7 per cent as of 8 pm Israel time, according to Israeli media. Under 90 minutes to go until the polls close.

18:23

Benjamin Netanyahu's increasingly provocative, panicked and paranoid statements over the past couple of hours have been seen by many as the acts of an increasingly desperate man.

But they could equally be part of a canny election strategy, fear the rival Zionist Unity bloc, which reportedly told Israeli Channel 2 News that Bibi has done more interviews tonight than over the past six years.

18:15

In Jerusalem, journalist Kate Shuttleworth reports from the Likud camp, where Netanyahu supporters are just as clueless as the rest of us how this will all end when the polls close in under two hours.

18:12

Benjamin Netanyahu has ruled out a "grand coalition" with the Zionist Unity bloc according to Ynet.

The Israeli news site quoted him as saying he will: "form a government of the national camp (right-wing bloc)."

"A leftist government will be dependent on the Joint Arab List and will surrender all the way." he added.

"There will be no unity government with the Labor (Zionist Union) party, there is no way to bridge the gaps between us."

But as Dimi Reider commented below, Netanhayu may not have a choice when it comes to the crunch.

17:55

Another lovely table for all you election data geeks out there, this one courtesy of Haaretz. As Middle East analyst Oren Kessler points out, turnout is slightly lower than the last election but higher than the previous two.

17:48

Despite Benjamin Netanyahu's very open courting of Israel's right wing parties, Dimi Reider, co-editor of Israeli online news magazine +972, has told IBTimesUK that Bibi is more likely to seek a coalition with moderate or centrist parties

"Even if (Netanyahu) is reelected tonight, the lackluster showing of right-wing parties means he will need to include at least one centrist party in the coalition - most probably the smallest one, Moshe Kachlon's Kulanu," Reider said.

"We can confidently expect therfore that one of his first calls after polls close will be to Herzog, inviting him to form a 'national unity government' - a fancy word for conservatives-dominated gridlock."

But Reider says that Netanyahu will struggle to live down comments he made earlier today about Arab voters and the two-state solution for an end to the Israel and Palestine conflict - which could muddy the waters even further in relations between Israel and the US.

"Much of Israel's standing in the world, especially in Europe, hinges on commitment to a two-states solution - no matter how nominal," he said.

"Disavowing it will boost those pushing for greater political and economic pressure on Israel, or at least against any preferential treatment, especially in tightly regulated trade and research cooperations in Europe.

"It will be interesting to see whether and how he intends to row back on these comments."

17:38

Somewhat expectedly, Benjamin Netanyahu has bypassed his press conference ban by releasing a video on Facebook accusing his rivals of "flagrant electioneering".

"The 'Just not Bibi' party doesn't stop speaking in the media without anyone disturbing them. The only one they decided to prohibit from speaking in the media is me, the Likud prime minister," the Times of Israel reported.

He attacked Central Election Committee chairman Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran - who ruled that a press conference he was due to give at his official residence was against election law - and said that "nobody will shut us up".

17:23

Reports that voting is still relatively low in Arab areas of Israel, at some 46.5% although that is only marginally lower than the 54.6% overall turnout.

17:09

It is now just over three hours until the polls close in Israel, and still no word on whether Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party will appeal a judge's ruling that he cannot give a press conference while Israelis are still voting.

17:03

The Israeli media are now talking about former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon as a potential kingmaker once the polls close and the coalition horse-trading begins.

His Kulanu (All Of Us) party, which he set up last November, is projected to come fifth in the polls but that could provide much-needed votes to either Likud or the Zionist Unity coalition: especially if the Arab Joint List parties - who will not enter a coalition with either of the top two - come in third.

16:53

The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) has produced a graphic showing the three possible scenarios of the general elections:

Israel elections 3 coalition scenarios
European Council on Foreign Relations

16:46

Voter turnout by 6pm reached 54.6%

Israel elections 2015
An Israeli soldier casts his ballot for the parliamentary election behind a mobile voting booth in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Migdalim, near ArielReuters

16:36

Jerusalem Post crime correspondent Ben Hartman revealed that police have received 738 reports of election fraud today – 51 of which will lead to criminal cases. These include today "people impersonating others at voting booths, theft of vote slips, threatening staffers."

16:14

The Israeli judge monitoring Israeli elections, Justice Salim Joubran of the Supreme Court, has banned Netanyahu's last-minute press conference from TV as it violates campaign rules.

The central election committee's decision came after Zionist Union and Yesh Atid parties appealed to the Supreme Court to bar the press conference.

15:17

Reuters has fascinating pictures of Israelis voting for the general elections. Here's a selection:

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