Israelis head to the polls for the third time in less than a year on Monday, after the two previous parliamentary races ended inconclusively.
Twenty-nine parties are running, but no more than eight are likely to break the 3.25% electoral threshold needed to enter the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
No party has ever won an absolute majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Typically, larger parties have to make alliances with smaller groups to create a governing coalition with a majority in parliament. After the election, the president will tap a party leader to try to form a coalition government.
Monday’s election was triggered after neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his chief challenger Benny Gantz succeeded in building a coalition after September’s vote, leading the Knesset to dissolve itself and hold new elections.
Here’s a look at the main parties and blocs:
The conservative Likud party has dominated Israeli politics for much of the past 40 years, with Netanyahu as prime minister for the past decade.
Its election campaign has focused heavily on Netanyahu’s leadership and close relationships with world leaders, most importantly President Donald Trump. Since the White House unveiled its Mideast plan last month, Netanyahu has made the proposal a key plank in his platform.
Netanyahu has traditionally allied himself with Israel’s ultra-Orthodox and religious nationalist parties to form governing coalitions. To garner support from the nationalist right, Netanyahu has promised to take steps toward annexing areas of the West Bank if re-elected.
The prime minister will go to trial two weeks after the elections for his indictment in three corruption cases. He has denied wrongdoing. Netanyahu’s legal woes don’t appear to have affected Likud’s polling numbers.
STUCK IN THE MIDDLE
Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party won a seat more than Likud in September and remains poised to challenge for that title again on Monday.
The party’s leaders — which include the former army commander Gantz, an ex-TV host and two other retired military chiefs — have focused their campaign on Netanyahu’s legal woes and questioned his character.
The party shares similar views to the Likud when it comes to a tough stance against Iran and Palestinian militant groups, but is more open to negotiations over Palestinian statehood. It breaks from Likud more dramatically when it comes to matters of the rule of law. Blue and White calls for a national unity government with Likud, but only if it rids itself of its longtime leader because of the corruption charges against him.
Even if Blue and White bests its long-ruling opponent, it will have a difficult time patching together an alternative governing coalition due to divisions among the anti-Netanyahu forces and the party’s reluctance to cooperate with the Arab-led parties in the Knesset.
THE RELIGIOUS NATIONALISTS
Israel’s religious-nationalist factions, who count among Netanyahu’s stalwart allies, are running on a single list once again. Drawing much of their support from the country’s settlers, Yamina has vowed to back the prime minister in his bid for re-election and has pushed for annexation of West Bank settlements.
Even further to the right, Jewish Power, a small ultranationalist party, is not projected to garner enough support to enter the Knesset, but has earned significant attention. It could strip votes away from Likud and Yamina.
Jewish Power’s leaders are political heirs of the late rabbi Meir Kahane, who advocated the expulsion of Palestinians and a Jewish theocracy.
Kahane’s Kach party was banned from parliament for racism in the 1980s, and the U.S. has classified his Jewish Defense League a terrorist group. Kahane was assassinated in New York by an Egyptian-American assailant in 1990.
Shas and United Torah Judaism are the two parties that represent Israel’s ever-growing ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. The parties enjoy near uniform support of their community and advocate for policies that cater to their insular lifestyle focused on prayer and study. They’ve been staunch supporters of Netanyahu.
A REUNITED LEFT
The venerable Labor Party dominated Israeli politics in its early decades. But it had a historically bad year in 2019, winning just six seats in each of the two previous elections.
Under its veteran leader Amir Peretz, Labor united with the smaller, centrist Gesher party in the run-up to September’s vote. After new elections were called, Labor-Gesher then merged with the liberal Meretz party in a bid to build a larger left-wing bloc.
Both parties have said they will not join a Netanyahu-led government.
Israel’s Arab parties, which represent the country’s 20% minority, are running on a single Joint List ticket after the feuding factions mended fences last summer and surged to 13 seats in parliament. This was largely thanks to higher turnout among Arab voters.
The Arab parties have never joined an Israeli government, but Likud has sought to play on Israeli conservative fears they might. Likud leaders have repeatedly claimed Gantz would form a government supported by the Joint List.
The Joint List is politically diverse, ranging from Communists to Islamists, and has sought broader support from Jewish voters with ads in Hebrew, Russian and Yiddish.
A substantial Arab turnout could hurt Netanyahu’s hopes for another term.
Netanyahu’s nemesis, Avigdor Lieberman, holds considerable power after his Yisrael Beitenu thwarted the formation of a Likud-led government in April and blocked either contender from building a coalition in September. For the third time in a year, he is the kingmaker.
Polls forecast that the secular ultranationalist party, largely supported by Lieberman’s fellow immigrants from the former Soviet Union, is likely to hold onto enough seats to tip the balance.
If he compromises on his campaign promise to bring secular reforms to Israel, he could join a coalition with Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox. If he compromises on his opposition to a government supported by Arab parties, he could make a center-left government headed by Gantz.
If polls are accurate, it could be difficult for Netanyahu or Gantz to secure a parliamentary majority without Lieberman’s support.