(photo credit: AP)
Likud Party leader Binyamin Netanyahu declared that he would be Israel's next prime minister and promised to begin collation talks to form a new government with the parties from the national camp as early as Wednesday.
"With God's help I will stand at the head of the next government," he told the supporters who had waited for close to three hours for him speak to them at a large hanger in Tel Aviv.
Undeterred by exit polls which showed that his party placed second behind Kadima in Tuesday's elections, Netanyahu said that he had already spoken with party leaders in the national camp "and we agreed to begin [coalition] discussions tomorrow."
He smiled as he gave a victory rather than a concession speech close to 1 a.m. He was greeted by large cheers from the crowd. They clapped their hands and yelled out, "here comes the next prime minister."
Netanyahu told them that while the true elections results had yet to be calculated but that even if they exactly replicate the exit polls, "there is no doubt about their meaning."
"The real question is not what do the polls say, but how do they translate into reality," he said.
The national camp headed by the Likud party had clearly won because it is in the position to form a coalition, he said.
In keeping with the promises he had made, Netanyahu said, he planned to speak first with the national camp about joining the coalition and after that with the rest of the parties so that he could create as strong a unified government as possible to bring Israel in the path of peace and hope.
In the last Knesset, he said, the national camp had only 50 mandates and the Likud itself had garnered only 12 of those.
Now, he said, the exit polls and the initial results show that the national camp has a clear majority in the Knesset and the Likud party has more than doubled its strength.
In the last election the voters clearly wanted the Likud in the opposition and this time around, "the nation wants a change, it wants to move forward along a different path headed by the Likud. Our way has won; it is our way that will lead the nation," he said.
The security and economic challenges Israel faces are not easy, he said. Externally, he said, Iran poses a security threat and internally the Israeli workers are in danger of losing their jobs.
Netanyahu promised to ask the best people in the nation to join forces to combat these threats.
"I want to thank the people of Israel who chose us out of faith and hope that we would lead Israel on a new path," he said.