Politics of Israel

Politics of Israel

Politics of Israel takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the Prime Minister of Israel is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in the Knesset. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. The political system of the State of Israel and its main principles are set out in 11 Basic Laws.

Legislative branch


The Knesset ( _he. כנסת, lit. "Assembly") is Israel's unicameral parliament. Its 120 members are elected to 4-year terms through party-list proportional representation ("see" electoral system, below), as mandated by the 1958 [http://www.knesset.gov.il/laws/special/eng/basic2_eng.htm Basic Law: The Knesset] . As the legislative branch of the Israeli government, the Knesset enacts laws, supervises government activities, and is empowered to elect or remove the President of the State or State Comptroller from office.

The March 2006 elections produced five prominent political parties; Kadima, Labor, Shas, Likud and Israel Beytenu, each with more than ten seats in the Knesset. However, only once has a single party held the 61 seats needed for a majority government (the Alignment from 1968 until the 1969 elections). Therefore, aside from that one exception, since 1948 Israeli governments have always comprised coalitions. As of 2006, there are 12 political parties represented in the Knesset, spanning both the political and religious spectra.

Electoral system

Israel's electoral law is based on a Basic Law ("The Knesset") and the 1969 "Knesset Elections Law".

The Knesset's 120 members are elected by secret ballot to 4-year terms, although the Knesset may decide to call for new elections before the end of its 4-year term. In addition a motion of confidence may be called. Voting is carried out using the highest averages method of party-list proportional representation, using the d'Hondt formula. General elections are closed list; that is, voters vote only for party lists and cannot affect the order of candidates within the lists and since the 1992 "Parties Law", only registered parties may stand. There are no separate electoral districts; all voters vote on the same party lists. Suffrage is universal among Israeli citizens aged 18 years or older, but voting is optional. Polling locations are open throughout Israel; absentee ballots are limited to diplomatic staff and the merchant marine. While each party attains one seat for 1 in 120 votes, there is a minimum threshold (currently 2% [http://www.knesset.gov.il/description/eng/eng_mimshal_beh.htm] ) for parties to attain their first seat in an election.

This electoral system, inherited from the Yishuv (Jewish settlement organization during the British Mandate), makes it very difficult for any party to gain a working majority in the Knesset and thus the government is generally formed on the basis of a coalition. The prime minister is selected by the president as the party leader most able to form a government, based on the number of parliament seats her or his coalition has won. After the president's selection, the prime minister has forty-five days to form a government. The members of the cabinet must be collectively approved by the Knesset.

In an attempt at electoral reform, in the May 1996 elections, Israelis voted for the prime minister directly, but direct election has since been repealed and the former system re-enacted.

Judicial system

The Judicial branch is an independent branch of the government, including secular and religious courts for the various religions present in Israel. The court system involves 3 stages of justice.

Judicial courts

Israeli judicial courts consist of a three-tier system:
* Magistrate Courts serves as the court of first instance
* District Courts serves as the appellate courts and also serve as the court of first instance for some cases;
* Supreme Court is located in Jerusalem and acts as an appellate court, and as the High Court of Justice as a court of first instance often in matters concerning the legality of decisions of state authorities.

In December 1985, Israel informed the UN Secretariat that it would no longer accept compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction.

Religious courts

Some issues of family law (marriage and divorce in particular) fall either under the jurisdiction of religious courts or under parallel jurisdiction of those and the state's family courts. The state maintains and finances Rabbinical, Sharia and various Canonical courts for the needs of the various religious communities. All judges are civil servants, and required to uphold general law in their tribunals as well. The High court of Justice serves as final appellate instance for all religious courts.The Jewish religious authorities are under control of the Prime Minister's Office and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. These courts have jurisdiction in only five areas: Kashrut, Sabbath, Jewish burial, marital issues (especially divorce), and Jewish status of immigrants. However, except for determining a person's marital status, all other marital issues may also be taken to secular Family Courts.

The other major religions in Israel, such as Islam and Christianity, are supervised by their own establishments of religious law. These courts have similar jurisdiction over their followers, although Muslim religious courts have more control over family affairs. Though now legitimized by the constitution of a Jewish state, the courts' present powers are the same as those agreed to by the government of the British Mandate (1920-1948).

Political conditions

Golda Meir, a former Israeli Prime Minister, joked that "in Israel, there are 3 million prime ministers". Because of the proportional representation system, there is a large number of political parties, many of whom run on very specialized platforms, often advocating the tenets of particular interest groups. The prevalent balance between the largest parties means that the smaller parties can have disproportionately strong influence to their size. Due to their ability to act as tie breakers, they often use this status to block legislation or promote their own agenda, even contrary to the manifesto of the larger party in office.

Israeli politics is dominated by Zionist parties which traditionally fall into three camps, the first two being the largest: Labor Zionism (which has social democrat colors), Revisionist Zionism (which shares some traits with tories or conservatives in other countries) and Religious Zionism (although there are several non Zionist Orthodox religious parties, as well as anti-Zionist Israeli Arab parties).

From the founding of Israel in 1948 until the election of May 1977, Israel was ruled by successive coalition governments led by the Labor Alignment (or Mapai prior to 1967). From 1967 to 1970, a national unity government included all of Israel's parties except for the two factions of the Communist Party of Israel. After the 1977 election, the Revisionist Zionist Likud bloc, then composed of Herut, the Liberals, and the smaller La'am Party, came to power forming a coalition with the National Religious Party, Agudat Israel, and others.

Prime Ministers and governments after 1977

Begin (1977-1983) and Shamir (1983-1984)

As head of Likud, Menachem Begin became Prime Minister in 1977. He remained Prime Minister through the succeeding election in June 1981, until his resignation in the summer of 1983, when he was succeeded by his Foreign Minister, Yitzhak Shamir. After losing a Knesset motion of confidence early in 1984, Shamir was forced to call for new elections, held in July of that year.

The vote was split among numerous parties and provided no clear winner leaving both Labor and Likud considerably short of a Knesset majority. Neither Labor nor Likud was able to gain enough support from the small parties to form even a narrow coalition. After several weeks of difficult negotiations, they agreed on a broadly based government of national unity. The agreement provided for the rotation of the office of prime minister and the combined office of vice prime minister and foreign minister midway through the government's 50-month term.

Peres (1984-1986) and Shamir (1986-1990)

During the first 25 months of unity government rule, the Alignment's Shimon Peres served as prime minister, while Likud's Yitzhak Shamir held the posts of vice prime minister and foreign minister. Peres and Shamir switched positions in October 1986. The November 1988 elections resulted in a similar coalition government. Likud edged the Alignment out by one seat but was unable to form a coalition with the religious and right-wing parties. Likud and the Alignment formed another national unity government in January 1989 without providing for rotation. Yitzhak Shamir became Prime Minister, and Shimon Peres became Vice Prime Minister and Finance Minister.

The formation of the Alignment-Likud coalition in 1984 resulted in Mapam leaving the Alignment and eventually joining other members of the Israeli peace camp to forming the left wing Meretz party in 1991.

The national unity government fell in March 1990, in a motion of no confidence precipitated by disagreement over the government's response to United States Secretary of State James Baker's initiative of the Madrid Conference of 1991. This affair became known in Israel as "the dirty trick".

hamir (1990-1992)

Labor Party leader Peres was unable to attract sufficient support among the religious parties to form a government. Yitzhak Shamir then formed a Likud-led coalition government including members from religious and right-wing parties.

Shamir's government took office in June 1990, and held power for 2 years.

Rabin (1992-1995)

In the June 1992 national elections, the Labor Party improved its electoral fortunes by taking 44 seats. Labor Party leader Yitzhak Rabin formed a coalition with Meretz (a group of three centre-left parties) and Shas (an ultra-Orthodox religious party). The coalition included the support of Arab and communist parties. Rabin became Prime Minister in July 1992. Shas subsequently left the coalition, leaving Rabin with a minority government dependent on the votes of Arab and communist parties in the Knesset.

Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Jewish radical on November 4, 1995, after the passage of the controversial Oslo Accords. Peres, then Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, once again became Prime Minister and immediately proceeded to carry forward the policies of Yitzhak Rabin, as well as the economic liberalization policies of the Rabin government, and to implement Israel's Oslo commitments (including military redeployment in the West Bank and the holding of historic Palestinian elections on January 20, 1996).

Peres (1995-1996)

Enjoying broad public support and anxious to secure his own mandate, Peres called for early elections after just 3 months in office. (They would otherwise have been held by the end of October 1996.) In late February and early March, a series of suicide bombing attacks by Palestinian terrorists took some 60 Israeli lives, seriously eroding public support for Peres and raising concerns about the Oslo Accords. Increased fighting in southern Lebanon, which also brought Katyusha rocket attacks against northern Israel, raised tensions and weakened the government politically just a month before the 29 May elections. This was further exacerbated, despite the sharp increase in economic growth

Netanyahu (1996-1999)

In those elections - the first direct election of a prime minister in Israeli history - Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu won by a narrow margin, having sharply criticized the government's peace policies for failing to protect Israeli security. Netanyahu subsequently formed a predominantly right-wing coalition government publicly committed to pursuing the Oslo Accords, but with an emphasis on security first and reciprocity. His coalition included the Likud party, allied with the Tzomet and Gesher parties in a single list; three religious parties (Shas, the National Religious Party, and the United Torah Judaism bloc); and two centrist parties, The Third Way and Yisrael BaAliyah. The latter was the first significant party formed expressly to represent the interests of Israel's new Russian immigrants. The Gesher party withdrew from the coalition in January 1998 upon the resignation of its leader, David Levy, from the position of Foreign Minister.

Barak (1999-2001)

On 27 May 1999, Ehud Barak from One Israel (an alliance of Labor, Meimad and Gesher) was elected Prime minister, and formed a coalition with the Centre Party (a new party with centrist views, led by former generals Yitzhak Mordechai and Amnon Lipkin-Shahak), the left-wing Meretz, Yisrael BaAliyah, the religious Shas and the National Religious Party. The coalition was committed to continuing negotiations; however, during the two years of the government's existence, most parties left the coalition, leaving Barak with a minority government of the Labor and the center party alone. Barak was forced to call for early elections.

haron (2001-2006)

On February 17, 2001, elections resulted in a new "national unity" coalition government, led by Ariel Sharon of the Likud, and including the Labor Party. This government fell when Labor pulled out, and new elections were held January 28, 2003.

Based on the election results, Sharon was able to form a right-wing government consisting of the Likud, Shinui, the National Religious Party and the National Union. The coalition focused on improving Israeli security through fighting against terror, along with combating economic depression. However, when Sharon decided on his 2004 disengagement plan, which included evacuation of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories (particularly the Gaza Strip), the National Union and National Religious Party withdrew from the coalition. Sharon's attempt to add the Haredi United Torah Judaism to the coalition drove Shinui out, and forced Sharon to bring the Labor Party back into his coalition.

Since not all Likud Knesset members supported Sharon's disengagement plan, he still lacked a clear majority in the Knesset. Apparently calculating that his personal popularity was greater than that of the party, Sharon pulled out of the Likud on November 21, 2005 and formed his own new Kadima party. He was joined only days later by Shimon Peres, who pulled out of the Labor party to join Sharon in a bid for a new government. This represents a cataclysmic realignment in Israeli politics, with the former right and left joining in a new centrist party with strong support (unlike previous centrist parties in Israel, which lacked the popularity Kadima now seems to enjoy).

Olmert (2006-present)

On January 4, 2006 Prime Minister Sharon suffered a massive stroke and went into a coma, in which he still remains. Designated Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert took power, becoming interim Prime Minister 100 days after Sharon's incapacitation. He did not become full Prime Minister due to elections being held in March and a new government being formed.

Following the March 2006 elections, which left Kadima as the largest party in the Knesset, Olmert became prime minister. He included Labour, Shas and Gil in a 67-seat coalition. In November 2006, Yisrael Beiteinu (11 seats) also joined the government, but departed from the coalition in January 2008.

Political parties and elections

Other political groups

Israeli politics are subject to unique circumstances and often defy simple classification in terms of the political spectrum. Groups are sometimes associated with the political left or right, especially in international circles, according to their stance on issues important to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Political right

On the political right:
*Gush Emunim, Israeli nationalists advocating Jewish settlement of the West Bank and formerly the Gaza Strip, and opposing evacuation of any of these settlements. (Largely defunct)
*Yesha Council ("Yesha" being a Hebrew acronym for "Judea, Samaria and Gaza"), a loose formation of local office-bearers in the Disputed Territories that claims to represent the interests of the Israeli settlers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They have high influence through strong organization and highly motivated communities.
*Almagor: association of terror victims.
*Professors for a Strong Israel

Political left

On the political left:
*the self identified Israeli "Peace Camp" is a coalition of parties and non-parliamentary groups which desire to promote peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours and to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict through a return to the pre-1967 border and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
*Anarchism in Israel: Israeli political movements with either an anti-nationalistic agenda or a fundamental opposition to government in general. Anarchists Against the Wall is a high-profile group that regularly protests the Israel-Palestine "wall".
*Peace Now supports territorial concessions in the West Bank and was critical of government's policy in withdrawing from Lebanon after the 1982-6 war and the subsequent withdrawal from South Lebanon.
*Geneva Initiative and The People's Voice ("HaMifkad HaLeumi"), two peace initiatives led by prominent Israeli and Palestinian public figures that surfaced in 2004. These initiatives were based on unofficial bilateral understandings between the two sides, and offer models for a permanent agreement.
*HaHistadrut ("The Union"; short for "the General Union of the Workers in Israel"), an umbrella organization for many labor unions in Israel. In the past, was identified with the different forms of the Israel Labor party; nowadays, the chairman of the Histadrut is Offer Eyni. The former chairman is Amir Peretz became head of the socialist One Nation party, which eventually merged into the Labor in 2004, which Peretz is heading since November 2005.
*Several radical left-wing organizations calling soldiers to refuse service in the West Bank and Gaza; the best known are Ometz LeSarev ("Courage to Refuse") and Yesh Gvul (There's a limit/border).
*Ma'avak Sotzialisti (Socialist Struggle) campaigns against privatisation and the worsening conditions faced by workers and young people in Israel.

Political centre

On the Political centre:

The political centre (represented in Knesset by Kadima and Gil, and in the past represented by Shinui) combines a lack of the confidence from the Political right wing on the negotiations with the Arabs with the assertion of the Political left wing that Israel should condense the Israeli attendance in the areas of the West Bank. As a result of that, the Political centre supports unilateral actions such as the Israeli West Bank barrier and Israel's unilateral disengagement plan alongside the continuation of the militaristic actions ( such as the Selective assassination policy) to fighting against terror. Economically, the centre is liberal and supports Economic liberalism and has a capitalistic approach. Until recently, the Political centre in the Knesset was very little - it never passed the 15 mandates on the average and the centre parties disintegrated within less than two terms (for example: Democratic Movement for Change, the Centre Party and Shinui). Other centre parties split up between the two main big parties, like Yachad (Ezer Weizman's party, which merged into the Alignment in 1987), Telem (Moshe Dayan's party, which eventually split up between the Alignment party and Likud), Independent Liberals (also merged into the Alignment) and the General Zionists (which together with Herut created Gahal, the forerunner of Likud).

Also parties which do not identify themselves as political right or political left are considered to be centre parties. For example: The Greens which focuses on environmental subjects and up until today has not been able to enter the Knesset.

Interest groups

*The kibbutzim lobby, which seek to receive financial aid from the government.
*The agriculture lobby, which seek to receive subsidies and tax relief on water.
*The lobby for promoting the status of women, a feminist group which co-operates with the Knesset.
*The lobby for the release of Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish spy jailed in the USA
*Or Yarok ("Green Light"): an organization devoted to reducing road accidents in Israel through education, enforcement, improvement of infrastructure and the establishment of a national task force to research the problem and formulate a long-term plan to reduce car accidents.


*Notable rabbinic figures have considerable influence on several Israeli parties and politicians, notably Shas and United Torah Judaism.
*Neturei Karta, an anti-zionist fringe Haredi group that rejects Israel and refrains from taking part in elections. They have little to no effect on Israeli politics.
*The Monitor Committee of Israeli Arabs: an Arab group, claiming to represent the interests of the Israeli Arab minority in Israel, tend to be separatists and hence perceived as hostile by the Jewish majority and have little influence in politics.

Political issues

Major issues in Israeli political life include:

*The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Arab-Israeli conflict
*The relationships between Jewish religious movements
*The nature of the state of Israel; (e.g. in what ways should it represent Judaism and in what ways should it represent secular democracy?) (see Jewish State and Religion in Israel)
*The economy, and trade issues with other nations.

International organization participation

BSEC (observer), CE (observer), CERN (observer), EBRD, ECE, FAO, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICFTU, IDA, IFAD, IFC, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, OAS (observer), OPCW, OSCE (partner), PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UPU, WCO, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO.


For governmental purposes, Israel is divided into six districts: Central, Haifa, Jerusalem, Northern, Southern, Tel Aviv. Administration of the districts is coordinated by the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Defense is responsible for the administration of the occupied territories.

Arab-Israeli peace diplomacy and treaties

*Paris Peace Conference, 1919
*Faisal-Weizmann Agreement (1919)
*1949 Armistice Agreements
*Camp David Accords (1978)
*Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty (1979)
*Madrid Conference of 1991
*Oslo Accords (1993)
*Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace (1994)
*Camp David 2000 Summit
*Peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
*Projects working for peace among Israelis and Arabs
*List of Middle East peace proposals
*International law and the Arab-Israeli conflict


* [http://www.knesset.gov.il/description/eng Knesset web site]
*Pasquale Amato, "Unità socialista in Israele, Intervista con Victor Shemtov", in "Mondoperaio", Rome, January 1981, pp. 47-51

ee also

*List of Knesset members
*List of Knesset speakers
*List of political parties in Israel
*List of Israelis
*List of Likud Knesset Members
*Prime Minister of Israel
*President of Israel
*Basic Laws of Israel
*Law of Return
*Who is a Jew?
*Religion in Israel
*Anarchism in Israel
*Israeli Security Forces
*Israeli judicial system

External links

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