Voting will take place on Tuesday, April 9, and the most recent polls show surprising results. The key players in the run-up to the election are Benjamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud and his main challenger, centrist Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party. But an unexpected candidate has crept in as a possible kingmaker: far-right candidate Moshe Feiglin and his new Zehut party.
What do the polls show?
Final polls of the campaigns came in on Friday and showed that Mr Netanyahu has fallen behind Mr Gantz, the main threat to securing a fifth term in office and becoming the country’s longest-serving Prime Minister.
However, polls also showed Mr Feiglin had surged ahead, which predict it could capture up to six of parliament’s 120 seats and perhaps tip the balance in coalition-building that will follow the ballot.
Drawing support from alienated young voters, Zehut captured attention with its mix of calls to legalise cannabis alongside its hard-line positions on Palestinians and the occupied West Bank.
If polls deliver and Mr Feiglin ends up as kingmaker, neither Mr Netanyahu or Mr Gantz are in a secure position to form a government.
Neither have any public assurances from Zehut that it will be on their side in the formation of a coalition.
Mr Feiglin has said that his conditions to both men are the legalisation of cannabis and control of the finance ministry, where he wants to cut corporate taxes and eliminate customs duties.
Once a member of Likud who unsuccessfully challenged Netanyahu for its leadership, Mr Feiglin, 56, has showcased free markets and marijuana, with his plan for the Palestinians taking a back seat.
His far-right policies call for annexation of the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, paid incentives to Palestinians to emigrate – and eventual construction of a third Jewish temple at the Jerusalem holy site where two biblical temples once stood.
The compound, revered by Jews as Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is home to the Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques and one of the most sensitive venues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
When will we know the results?
Israel‘s major television stations and news websites issue exit polls when voting ends at 10pm local time (8pm BST) on Tuesday, estimating how many parliamentary seats each party has won.
Once the exit polls are in, the coalition calculations begin – no party has won a majority of seats since Israel’s first election in 1949, and coalition building is part of the Knesset.
A coalition is built once Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, consults with the leaders of every party represented in parliament as to their preference for Prime Minister.
The President then chooses the legislator who he believes has the best chance of putting together a coalition.
The nominee, who does not necessarily have to be the head of the party that won the most votes, has up to 42 days to form a government before the President asks another politician to try.