Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [AP]

Headed by hardline Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud is a right wing party that was founded by longtime politician Menachem Begin in 1973.  Since Netanyahu's first premiership (1996-1999), he has been at the forefront of expanding Jewish-only settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and dismantling the Oslo Accords agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Likud rose back to prominence with Netanyahu's return to the prime minister's office in 2009.

Jewish-only settlement grew by 23 percent between 2009 and 2014.

Under Netanyahu's rule, Israel has carried out two large scale military offensives in the blockaded Gaza Strip: the 8-day Operation Pillar of Cloud in November 2012, and the 51-day Operation Protective Edge that concluded with a lasting ceasefire in late August 2014.

Netanyahu's government has continually conditioned renewing negotiations on the Palestinians recognising Israel as a "Jewish" state.

Likud also opposes the division of Jerusalem - the eastern part of which is considered occupied by international law - as well as the return of Palestinian refugees and the freezing of Israeli settlements.

Relations between Israel and the United States have sunk to all-time lows during the respective terms of Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama, who have had several highly publicised spats over negotiations with the Palestinians.

Likud has adopted a strict position against Iran's development of nuclear programme. Netanyahu most recently caused a stir between Democrats and Republicans in the US when he addressed the US Congress on March 3 to urge the US not to move forward in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme.

Isaac Herzog, co-leader of the centre-left Zionist Union [Reuters]
Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, Zionist Union

A centre-left electoral coalition consisting of the Labour and Hatnuah parties, the Zionist Union was established in December 2014 with the goal of overcoming the popularity of right-wing parties, chiefly the Likud.

Labour leader Isaac Herzog and Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni, the former justice minister fired by Netanyahu in early December, have said that they will alternate in the role of prime minister if the Zionist Union succeeds in the upcoming elections.

Herzog is the son of Chaim Herzog, the late Israeli general and 6th president of Israel. A veteran politician, Herzog became leader of the opposition after winning internal elections within the Labour party in November 2013.

He quickly met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to declare his support for a two-state solution.

He has been sharply critical of Netanyahu, particularly the prime minister's relationship with the US.

Unlike Herzog, Livni has not always been a prominent figure on the Israeli centre-left. Beginning her career with the rightist Likud party, she later joined the centrist Kadima and eventually founded the centre-left Hatnuah in 2013.

In addition to serving as deputy prime minister between 2006 and 2007, Livni has served in various ministerial positions throughout her career, including as minister of justice and minister of foreign affairs. In recent years she has emerged as a vocal proponent of a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Critics have slammed Livni's proposal to forcibly transfer Arab towns near the border to the control of the Palestinian Authority. They point out that this is a view that ultra-nationalist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman advocates.

The Zionist Union stresses economic change that they say will benefit middle class and working Israelis disillusioned by Netanyahu's privatisation push in recent years.

Manuel Trajtenberg, the Zionist Union's nominee for finance minister, recently proposed state distribution of land for free in order to increase housing development as Israel struggles with a housing crisis. Despite executing a long campaign, many critics say that the Zionist Union has failed to connect with many meaningful demographics of Israeli society.

Naftali Bennett, Habayit Hayehudi

Naftali Bennett is among the most controversial political figures in Israel. Leader of the religious nationalist Jewish Home (Habayit Hayehudi) party, Bennett is an advocate for the expansion of Israeli settlements and the frequent use of military force.

Israeli Economy Minister and head of the ultra-nationalist party Jewish Home, Naftali Bennett [Getty Images]

Before entering politics, Bennett built an anti-fraud software company in the US and made a lucrative living as a businessman. After returning to Israel, he served as then opposition leader Netanyahu's chief of staff from 2006 until 2008. He has served as the economy minister since 2013.

The Jewish Home party was formed in 2008 after the merger of three smaller ultra-nationalist parties. Bennett won primary elections and assumed leadership of the party in November 2012.

Bennett is a committed opponent of Palestinian statehood. He has been sharply criticised for proposing the forcible annexation of Area C, a swath of land that makes up more than 60 percent of the occupied West Bank.

In July 2013, Bennett sparked outrage at home and abroad when he boasted of killing Arabs. "If you catch terrorists, you simply have to kill them," he said in an interview with Yediot Aharonot. "I have killed lots of Arabs in my life - and there is no problem with that."

On the domestic front, Bennett enjoys a broad support base among modern Orthodox Jews and religious nationalists, including many Israeli settlers who promote further expansion into the occupied Palestinian territories.

In Israel, the party's lawmakers attempted to pass legislation that reflects the social and political views of conservative Orthodox Jews, including opposition to same-sex marriage and other social issues.
Jewish Home Knesset members have also repeatedly introduced legislation that aims to limit the influence of left-wing and moderate non-governmental organisations in Israel.

One version of that bill, which has yet to formally pass, sought to strip human rights and civil rights groups of their tax-exemption if they receive foreign funding.

Some analysts have argued that the growing popularity of Bennett and the Jewish Home party has forced Likud to move further right.

Israeli MP and chairperson of center-right Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid [Getty Images]
Yair Lapid, Yesh Atid
Born and raised in Tel Aviv, Yair Lapid made a name for himself as a television personality and journalist long before stepping foot onto the Israeli political landscape. He wrote and worked as a news editor throughout the 1980s for several popular Israeli newspapers before he became a talk show host in the 1990s.

In 2012, he entered politics and founded Yesh Atid, a staunchly secular centre-right party that enjoys broad support among the middle class and businessmen.

Lapid supports mandatory military service for all Israeli citizens, including those who are traditionally exempt - ultra-Orthodox Jews and Palestinian citizens of Israel.

He has also argued that settlers receive too much representation in the government, although they do not represent the majority of Israelis.

After Yesh Atid gained 19 seats in the Knesset during the 2013 elections, Lapid was appointed as the finance minister. During his term, he attempted to ease the tax burdens on middle-class Israelis and introduced legislation designed to strictly limit landlords' ability to raise rents.

Lapid's approval rating sunk drastically during his first year in office. Eleven months after being appointed finance minister, 75 percent of Israelis polled expressed disappointment with his performance.

Though Lapid has focused largely on domestic policies, he is a strong critic of Netanyahu's foreign policies and approach towards the Palestinians. Although Lapid supports returning to negotiations with the Palestinians, he believes that all of Jerusalem, including occupied East Jerusalem, should remain in Israel, along with large settlement blocks in the West Bank.

In 2012, he claimed Palestinians carry "most of the blame" for the failure to reach a peace agreement. "I am not sure that they as a people are ready to make peace with us," he said.

Nonetheless, he has also blamed right-wing figures like Bennett for attempting to make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a religious conflict and not a national dispute. "With Hamas it's a religious dispute," he told Time. "But not yet with Fatah. With the Palestinian Authority we have a national dispute. And we should keep it this way, because a national dispute we can solve." Aymen Odeh, the Joint List

Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint Arab List [Reuters]

Aymen Odeh, the Joint List


Ayman Odeh is the leader of Hadash, the Israeli communist party. He is also the leader of the Joint List, a coalition of four Arab-majority political parties in Israel.


Established in late January, the four parties reached an agreement to form an electoral coalition largely due to a new rule that requires parties to receive at least 3.25 percent of the vote in order to gain Knesset seats.


Given that none of the Arab parties received more than 3 percent of the vote in the 2013 elections, leaders feared that they would effectively be excluded from the legislative process.


Odeh took over the leadership of Hadash after longtime party head Mohammed Barakat resigned ahead of the 2015 elections. A widely respected lawyer and lifelong socialist activist, Odeh is credited with injecting a new stripe of charisma into Arab political parties.


Nonetheless, many disagreements exist between the parties within the Joint List. Balad, the nationalist party headed by Jamal Zahalka, believes in a two-state solution that establishes an independent Palestinian state and turns Israel into a state for all its citizens.


Hadash, on the other hand, advocates a two-state solution that establishes a national home for Palestinians and recognises Israel as a national home for Jews.


Odeh recently told the Times of Israel news website that he expects to become the leader of the opposition in the next Knesset. "This is an opportunity for us to present our issues, the issues of the Arab public," he said.


Odeh has proclaimed that the Joint List will attempt to tackle issues relevant to all Palestinian citizens of Israel, chiefly poverty, housing, and education.


He intends to introduce a 10-year programme designed to close the social and economic gap between the Arab minority and their Jewish compatriots.


Yet Odeh's Joint Arab List faces harsh criticism. Hardline Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has called for the Joint List to be disqualified from electoral participation. He claimed that Israel ought "to avoid an absurd situation in which members of Knesset act against the state".


Many Palestinian citizens of Israel also oppose the Joint List, instead advocating a full boycott of Israeli elections and Knesset representation.


Source: Al Jazeera