Al Jazeera spoke to Arab and Jewish voters about their electoral choices.
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.
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.
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.