Last updated: 12 March, 2015

A snapshot of Israel’s March 17 election

From polls and parties to slogans and seats, here are some of the key issues in Israel's March 17 general election.

What is the election’s main focus?

Rightwing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has based his campaign on national security, going as far as defying the US adminstration to address Congress and voice Israeli concerns about the emerging deal with Iran on its nuclear programme.

“There is only one issue being decided in these elections: who will lead the country in the face of extremist Islamist terror and Iran’s race to obtain nuclear weapons,” he has said.

Leftist and centrist parties are focusing on the economy and social issues, especially the increasingly high cost of living.

What are the main parties/blocs?

The outgoing 120-seat Knesset includes a rightwing bloc which won 43 seats in 2013 — Likud (20), Yisrael Beitenu (11), Jewish Home (12).

Centrists had 27 — Yesh Atid (19), HaTnuah (6) and Kadima (2).

The centre-left Labour had 15 seats and the leftwing Meretz 6.

Ultra-Orthodox parties had 18 — Shas (11) and United Torah Judaism (7).

Arab parties had 11 — Ram Tal/United Arab List (4), Hadash (4) and Balad (3).

Polls suggest the size of the blocs are unlikely to alter dramatically.

Labour and HaTnuah have combined as the Zionist Union to lure centrist voters being wooed by the new centre-right Kulanu party headed by former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon. Kadima will not participate.

Shas split after an internal dispute, and its former leader Eli Yishai heads the new Yahad party on a joint platform with rightwing religious extremists. Yahad is likely to target those who would have backed Shas or the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home.

After legislation raised the voting threshold from 2.0 percent to 3.25, the main Arab parties established a joint list, and polls predict they will win at least 12 seats.

What do the polls say?

The party that forms Israel’s government is either the largest or the one with the best chance of forming a coalition.

Polls since January have shown the Zionist Union ahead with 23-26 seats, closely followed by Netanyahu’s Likud, which closed the gap in the immediate days following his March 3 Congress speech, only to drop back to second place.

An amalgamation of seven recent surveys conducted by pollster Project 61 on March 10 showed the Zionist Union winning 24 seats compared with 21 for Likud, with a Tuesday poll giving the Zionist Union a four-seat advantage.

Even if the Zionist Union wins it would struggle to form a coalition, whereas Netanyahu would have no problem piecing together a government of religious, rightwing and centrist parties.

What do voters want?

Despite Netanyahu’s insistence on security, the average Israeli is more concerned about his overdraft than the non-existent peace process or Iran’s nuclear programme.

In December, Israeli news website Walla scanned more than 500,000 social media posts which showed that social-economic issues were twice as important as diplomatic or security concerns.

But most people are likely to vote based on previous preferences or for personalities.

“People ultimately vote either for the party’s name or the party’s leader, that’s what studies show,” political science expert Tamir Sheafer of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University told AFP.

What about the peace process, Israel’s diplomatic standing?

Observers say another rightwing government would further reduce the chances of reviving peace talks with the Palestinians which collapsed in April 2014.

The negotiations failed largely because of settlement building which has heightened international frustration with Israel. This increased its diplomatic isolation, which could continue or worsen if Netanyahu is re-elected.

Ties with Washington have also suffered after Netanyahu’s Congress speech on Iran was not coordinated with the White House, causing his already sour relations with President Barack Obama to hit an unprecedented low.

If re-elected, Netanyahu will struggle to rebuild the shattered relationship with Obama who still has nearly two years in office.