5 Things to Know About Israel's Election
Netanyahu's party slightly behind: recent opinion polls
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 17, 2015 11:53 AM CDT
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts his vote during Israel's parliamentary elections in Jerusalem, Tuesday, March 17, 2015.   (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, Pool)
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(Newser) – People are heading to the polls in Israel today to elect a 120-member parliament, with seats assigned based on a party's percentage of the national vote. The polls are expected to close at 10pm local time (4pm Eastern). Until then, here's what you need to know:

  • On forming a government: As Israel is governed by a coalition, the president will decide which party leader (there are 25 parties in total) has the best chance of forming a government following the vote, the AP notes. If he or she can form a coalition within six weeks, that leader—usually of the parliament's largest party—becomes prime minister. Otherwise, a new leader is chosen.
  • On Arab voters: The latest polls show the Zionist Union led by Isaac Herzog with 25 seats over 21 seats for Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party, Time reports. Smaller parties that lend their support either way could make a huge difference. In an attempt to "narrow the gap," Netanyahu called on supporters to counter the high Arab voter turnout, which he said threatened his party's rule, reports the AP. That could come back to bite him: About 20% of the population is Arab.

  • On America: A defeat for Netanyahu could mean a fresh start for US-Israeli relations. Challengers have criticized the prime minister's controversial speech to Congress earlier this month as injuring the country's relationship with its most important ally. Opponents, including Herzog, have promised to repair ties with America. Herzog has also vowed to renew peace efforts with the Palestinians.
  • On Palestinians: In the past, Netanyahu has acknowledged the notion of a Palestinian state, but yesterday said he would prevent it from becoming more than an idea, which puts him at odds with Western allies. A Palestinian state would provide "attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel," he said, per Time. He also suggested Herzog and the the Zionist Union wound surrender territory for such a state.
  • On Iran: Netanyahu maintains Iran's apparent nuclear program poses a threat to Israel. He indicated other leaders wouldn't confront the issue as he would. Opponents seem more concerned with issues at home. Much of the Zionist Union's campaign has focused on addressing Israel's rising cost of living, which is a key issue for voters.