JERUSALEM – WHO IS RUNNING?
Polls indicate about a dozen of 32 parties competing in Tuesday's election have a chance of winning seats in the 120-member parliament. Most parties fall either into the right-wing-religious or center-left camp, and surveys indicate hard-line and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties will command a majority.
The three largest parties, according to polls, will be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-line Likud-Yisrael Beitenu alliance, the centrist Labor and the pro-settlement Jewish Home.
Others include the ultra-Orthodox Shas and two centrist parties, Hatnua and Yesh Atid. Hatnua is the only mainstream faction to make peace with the Palestinians a priority. Yesh Hatid champions middle class concerns but, like Labor, focuses largely on domestic issues.
— WHAT MIGHT ISRAEL'S NEXT GOVERNMENT LOOK LIKE?
If polls prove accurate, Netanyahu would be given the first shot to form a coalition government. He could team up with ideological allies on the right, court centrist parties or try to establish a broad coalition.
— WHAT'S AT STAKE?
The conflict with the Palestinians and their demand for a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem — lands Israel captured in 1967 — was largely absent from the campaign.
Polls suggest a majority of Israelis support a partition of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River into two states, but doubt such a deal is possible for now, in part because the Islamic militant Hamas used Gaza, a territory from which Israel withdrew in 2005, as a staging ground for attacks.
Netanyahu said in 2009 that he is willing negotiate the terms of a Palestinian state. But settlement construction in the West Bank resumed after his 10-month partial building freeze failed to restart peace talks.
Netanyahu follows an economic policy based on free market ideas, but his rivals charge it has further widened gaps between rich and poor.
— ISRAEL'S PLACE IN THE WORLD
Israel has become more isolated under Netanyahu. The Israeli leader seems headed toward a confrontation with the U.S., Israel's key ally, if he opts for a hard-line government and more settlement building.
In November, the U.N. General Assembly voted 138-9 to recognize a state of Palestine in the lands occupied in 1967, rebuffing Netanyahu's demand to keep east Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank.
The U.S. voted with Israel at the U.N., but there are signs of increasing displeasure in Washington.