The State of Israel is located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, bordering Egypt to the south (266 km), the occupied Gaza Strip
(51 km) to the southwest, the occupied West Bank
(307 km) to the east, Jordan (238 km) to the east, Syria (76 km) on the northeast and Lebanon (79 km) to the north.
According to estimates of the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2017, Israel had 8.6 million residents, including 6.45 million Jews (75 percent of the population) and 1.8 million Arabs (20.8 percent of the population). Christians and followers of other religions constituted 4.5 percent of Israel’s inhabitants.
The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics divides Israel into six administrative districts – Northern
, Tel Aviv
districts. The statistical information it collects also includes data from illegal settlements in Golan Heights and West Bank areas that Israel occupied in the 1967 war (Judea and Samaria
The Oslo Accords
(1993) divided control and administration of the West Bank into three areas. Area A is under Palestinian control and administration, area B is controlled by Israel and administered by Palestinians and finally area C is under full Israeli control and administration.
In the late 19th century, Jewish nationalist ambitions embodied in the Zionist movement began to arrive in Palestine
, in the form of several waves of Jewish immigration from different parts of the world.
With the Balfour Declaration
in 1917, the British government formally stated a policy that favored the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.
In 1918, the British mandate in Palestine was established and with the support of Britain, the Jewish colonization project expanded significantly. As a result, Palestinian nationalism emerged to counter British colonialism and expansionist Zionism, climaxing in the Palestinian revolt (1936-1939).
As Israeli historian Ilan Pappé puts it, the Zionist leadership became convinced that the only way to achieve a Jewish state with ethnic supremacy was by total expulsion of the native Palestinian population. After the Second World War, the United Kingdom became increasingly involved in a violent conflict with the local Jewish armed groups leading to its decision to withdraw from Palestine and thus accelerated implementation of Zionist plans.
In February 1947, the issue was transferred to the United Nations, which eventually adopted United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181
, also known as the UN Partition Plan for Palestine, dividing it into two states.
On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel declared its independence on 80 percent of historic Palestine, followed by the outbreak of the 1948 war and the intervention of neighboring Arab countries.
By the end of 1948, some 750,000 Palestinians (constituting half of Palestine’s indigenous population) was uprooted, and 531 Palestinian villages and 11 urban neighborhoods were destroyed. This historic event is remembered by Palestinians as "al-Nekba" or "the Catastrophe."
In 1967, neighboring countries were mobilizing their armed forces, culminating in an Israeli attack on Egypt on June 5. The 1967 War lasted for six days and allowed Israel to occupy a remaining 20 percent of historic Palestine, including the West Bank (with East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip. As a result of this conflict, the UN Security Council adopted unanimously Resolution 242
, calling on Israel to withdraw its armed forces from the occupied territories.
In October 1973, another war broke out between Israel and its Arab neighbors, resulting in the Camp David peace treaty (1979) in which Israel agreed to return Sinai to Egypt.
In 1982, Israeli army invaded Lebanon with the objective of expelling the Palestine Liberation Organization
(PLO) from the country. During this military invasion, Christian militias backed by Israel carried out a massacre of Palestinian civilians in Sabra and Shatila
In 1987, the first Intifada
, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation broke out in a Gaza refugee camp, quickly spreading into the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The intifada led to the commencement of the 1991 Madrid conference
In 1993, secret negotiations between Israel and the PLO leadership resulted in the signing of the Oslo accords
by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat
and US President Bill Clinton. As a result, , the Palestinian leadership represented by the PLO returned from exile in Tunisia and the Palestinian Authority was established under Arafat.
The peace talks broke down again at the 2000 Camp David
summit where a final status settlement between Palestinians and Israel was on the table. With the deteriorating peace process, and a provocative visit of Israeli Prime Minister Sharon
to the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif) on September 28, 2000, the second Intifada
erupted. Four years later, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
officially declared an end of armed confrontation against Israeli forces at the 2005 Sharm el-Sheikh summit.
In September 2005, Israel unilaterally disengaged from Gaza, dismantling Israeli settlements and removing settlers and armed forces. The Gaza disengagement
created a power vacuum, aggravating the security situation and causing a rift between Palestinian factions. Israel did not recognize the Hamas
government after its victory in the parliamentary elections in 2006.
On June 25, 2006, Palestinian armed groups captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit near the Gaza border. In June 2007, Israel imposed a blockade
on the Gaza Strip causing a severe deterioration of the humanitarian situation. On December 27, 2008, the Israeli army initiated a 22-day military invasion into Gaza
killing more than 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians. On the Israeli side, there were 13 casualties, including three civilians.
In 2011, Hamas reached a deal with Israel to release 1,027 Palestinians
(some with Israeli and foreign passports) held in Israeli prisons in
exchange for Shalit. Israel waged two more major operations on Hamas in Gaza, in 2012 and 2014, each with immense infrastructure damage and loss of life on the Palestinian side.
While negotiations continued fruitlessly between the Palestinian leadership led by Fateh in the West Bank, Israel was increasingly governed by a right-wing coalition that made compromise over land, the core of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, difficult. The election of U.S. President Donald Trump proved to be very favorable for Israeli hard-liners, with the U.S. administration recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on December 6, 2017 and subsequently moving the U.S. embassy to the city.
Since March 2009, Benjamin Netanyahu
has served as Israelzzz*zs prime minister as leader of the right-wing Likud Party. If he completes his term, he will be Israelzzz*zs longest-serving prime minister and he is currently the only prime minister to serve three consecutive terms.
Israelzzz*zs government is elected by proportional representation, where the public votes for various party lists who are then represented in the parliament according to the proportion of their votes. The prime minister is named by the president upon recommendation of the parties elected to the parliament or Knesset, based on the strongest coalition. The cabinet is selected by the prime minister, who negotiates which parties hold seats as part of the coalition-building process.
Israelzzz*zs judiciary is independent, and Israel has no constitution but is governed by 11 Basic Laws. The West Bank and Gaza Strip
, occupied and not annexed by Israel, are subject to Israeli military regulations.
The government has always been dominated by Zionist parties, i.e. those that promote Jewish nationalism, with non-Zionist Orthodox parties, and non-Zionist parties and anti-Zionist left-wing and Palestinian parties occupying the fringes. One characteristic of the Israeli system is that there are many small parties that wield great power and can be "king-makers" in the formation of any majority government coalition.
In the 2015 election, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship formed a united list (Joint List) that took the third greatest number of votes and 10 percent of the seats in the Knesset, but they were excluded from participating in the government, which was formed with smaller right-wing Zionist parties. While Ultra-Orthodox parties such as Shas and United Torah Judaism (both in Netanyahuzzz*zs coalition) have non-Zionist roots, and their constituencies do not serve in the military, their role vis-a-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been opposed to political compromise.
In 2017, the Israeli Democracy Institute
noted in its annual report on the state of Israelzzz*zs democracy that while many Israelis, both Jewish and Arab, enjoy political engagement, there are some worrying indicators. Jewish left (72 percent) and Arab Israelis (65 percent) believe that Israelzzz*zs democracy is "in grave danger," while only 25 percent of the Right, which is in power, agree. Also, there is a clear gap between what the government is delivering and what citizens expect, with 56 percent of Jews and 68 percent of Arabs arguing that the state serves the wealthy.