1948: Declaration of the State of Israel
1956: Suez crisis
1967: Six day war
1973: October war (Yom Kippur war)
1982: First Lebanon war
1987: First Intifada
1993: Oslo agreements
2000: Second Intifada
2006: Second Lebanon war
2008: Gaza War (Operation Cast Lead)
The partition plan adopted by the UN (1947) was not accepted by the Arab countries, not in the least because the amount of land allotted to the Jews was far greater than their number in the overall population of Palestine. Fighting between Jews and Arabs intensified. After the termination of the British Mandate over Palestine (14 May 1948) and the Declaration of the State of Israel (15 May 1948), Transjordan, Lebanon, Syria Iraq and Egypt invaded Israel. After the end of hostilities (beginning of 1949) Israel had more territory conquered than was originally allotted by the UN partition plan.
The Suez crisis was the next conflict at the borders of Israel. Egypt nationalised the Suez canal and closed it to Israeli shipping in 1956. France and the United Kingdom attacked Egypt in order to take back the canal by force, Israel joined the attack later on and invaded the Gaza strip and the Sinai Peninsula. They withdrew in 1957 due to pressure from the United States (US) and the Soviet Union. The UN established a force to keep peace in the area but this force left after war threats from Egyptian President Nasser in 1967. A few months later Israel destroyed the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian air force by surprise in the Six day war. Israel occupied the Gaza strip, Sinai Peninsula, West Bank and the Golan Heights. The UN adopted resolution 242, which affirms that the fulfilment of the UN Charter principles requires ‘the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.’ Principles like the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied, termination of all claims or states of belligerence and respect and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways, achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem. This would be the basis for all the peace talks in the upcoming years. In the October war of 1973, on the Jewish Day of Atonement, Egypt retook the Suez canal in a surprise attack and the Golan Heights were re-conquered by Syria. In the end, Israel was successful in pushing back the Syrians. After huge efforts of the US, an interim agreement between Egypt and Israel was signed in 1975 which established a buffer zone between Egypt and Israel.
After thirty years of hostility between Israel and Egypt, the President of Egypt Sadat visited Jerusalem in 1978 and a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel followed in 1979. This opened the way to create a framework for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. But the border with Lebanon and Jordan came under pressure. In 1982 the First Lebanon war started. Israel attacked the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) that was stationed in the south of Lebanon. The PLO was founded in 1964 and called for the liquidation of Israel. The First Intifada - a mass Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule in the Palestinian territories (West Bank and Gaza Strip) - started in 1987. This ‘war of stones’ lasted until 1991.
After the Gulf war in 1991 regional peace was possible in the Middle East. An historic meeting in Madrid was convened by the US and Russia where Israeli, Lebanese, Jordanian, Syrian and Palestinian leaders met for the first time in years. A Declaration of Principles was signed between Israel and the PLO in 1993, these were also known as the Oslo agreements. The declaration implied that authority would be transferred from Israel to the Palestinians on the West Bank and the Gaza strip. This process started in 1994. The agreement became formal when Prime Minister Rabin and PLO chairman Arafat signed the historic Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement in 1995. But after the assassination of Rabin little progress has been made. Settlement building by Israel on Palestinian land had already created facts on the ground that made a viable Palestinian state almost impossible to realise.
In 2000 Israel unilaterally withdrew its forces in southern Lebanon. This was in accordance with the UN resolution 425. This territory came under the control of Hezbollah. They are regarded as a legitimate resistance movement throughout the Arab world but it is considered as a terrorist organization by the West. When former Prime Minister Sharon visited the Temple Mount - a holy place to the Muslims – riots by Palestinians broke out and the Second Intifada started in September 2000. The failure of the peace process and the ongoing process of annexation of Palestinian land increased Palestinian and Hezbollah resistance and there were a number of suicide attacks within Israel. Israel responded with the construction of a barrier around the West Bank. In 2003 Prime Minister Sharon launched a plan to an unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Former United States President Bush - working in conjunction with the European Union (EU), UN and Russia - took the lead in laying out a roadmap to a final settlement of the conflict in 2005. This map was focused on the creation of two states, Israel and Palestine. In February 2005 an agreement was reached in Sharm al-Sheikh. Fulfilling one of the conditions of the Roadmap there were in 2006 free and fair Palestinian elections. Hamas came out as the victory party. Israel and it Western allies did not accept this outcome and started a complete boycott of Hamas, the Palestinian institutions and of the whole Palestinian economy and society.
In July 2006 the Second Lebanon war started. After a Hezbollah attack on a Israeli military patrol Israel started a full scale war, in which Hezbollah retaliated with a series of rocket attacks on Israel. The war ended a month later with a cease-fire based on the UN resolution 1701.
At the end of 2005, as part of Israel’s unilateral disengagement plan, Israel removed all of its residents from the Gaza strip. However, Gaza’s airspace and sea access is still under control of Israel, in fact Gaza is completely sealed off by Israel, hardly any goods and people coming in and out. The internal control over Gaza is in the hands of Hamas since fighting broke out between El Fatah and Hamas in 2007. Last September, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stepped down after allegations of fraud and bribery. Tzipi Livni, who replaced Olmert as leader of the Kadima party, failed to broker a deal with the religious right. Early parliamentary elections in 2009 were needed. Six weeks before the general Knesset elections, Israel decided to attack the Palestinian movement Hamas on the Gaza strip. A fragile six-month truce between Hamas and Israel came to an end. Operation Cast Lead started on the 27th of December 2008 and lasted 22 days. A cease-fire was settled on 18 January 2009, only a month before the parliamentary elections in Israel. More recently, Israel has engaged into a ground offensive named Operation Protective Edge in Gaza on 8 July, 2014 after repeated air strikes. This operation followed the death of three young Israeli teenagers and one Palestinian at the end of June. As for the end August 2014, no ceasefire has been agreed between both parts despite renewed negotiations in Cairo.
Elections are general, national, direct, equal, secret, and proportional. The entire country constitutes a single electoral constituency, and all citizens are eligible to vote from age 18. On Election Day for the parliamentary elections, voters cast a ballot for a political party, not an individual, to represent them in the Knesset. The Knesset is the unicameral parliament of Israel. Its 120 members are elected to 4-year terms through party list proportional representation. The only limitation on a list which participated in the elections is that it should pass the qualifying threshold which is 2%. This system is often criticised as a recipe for an unstable government as it favours small parties. Prior to the election, each party presents its platform, and the list of its candidates for the Knesset, in order of precedence.
Branches of Government
Head of state: President
Legislature: The Knesset, Mayors and Council heads and local councils
Executive : Government, Prime Minister and Ministries
Legislature : Court system and Attorney General
After the elections, the president usually assigns the task of forming the government to the leader of the largest party, or the head of the party that leads a coalition with more than 60 members. As a government requires the Knesset’s confidence to function, it must have a supporting coalition of at leas 61 of the 120 Knesset members. The coalition leader has to form a government in 28 days – which can be extended for another 14 days.
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 from office. Parties who reject the existence of the State Israel as the state of the Jewish People, or that incite racism, may not participate in the elections.
Presidential elections 2014
The latest Israeli presidential elections took place on June 10, 2014. The candidates were Reuven Rivlin from Likud, Meir Sheetrit from Hatnuah, and independents Dalia Itzik, Dalia Dorner and Dan Shechtman. Although 63% of Israeli had declared to be in favour of Shimon Peres remaining in office as President, the Israeli Constitution prohibited him from running for a second term.
Reuven Rivlin obtained 63 votes from deputies in the second round, which is more than the majority of 61 seats needed to be elected. Observers said that this election would change the political face and orientation of Israel’s presidency. Rivlin is indeed known for his support to “Greater Israel” and colonisation as well as his opposition to a Palestinian State. He became the country’s 10th President on 28 July 2014.
Reuven Rivlin (Likud)
Meir Sheetrit (Hatnuah)
Dalia Itzik (independent)
Dalia Dorner (independent)
Dan Shechtman (independent)
Parliamentary elections 2013
Unlike the previous elections, the campaign in 2013 was largely focused on the social and economic situation, instead of the prospects for a permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians. There have been a lot of protests against and debates over the rising costs of living and the rising poverty in Israel. Thirty-four parties submitted lists of candidates and were competing under the system of proportional representation. More than 5.65 million Israeli’s were eligible to vote. According to the Central Election Committee there was a voting turnout of 67.77%.
After the elections on 22 January, the right wing party Likud claimed victory. But although the party has won the elections, the results show that the Likud-Beitenu alliance that was formed after the previous elections suffered a major setback and lost 11 seats with respect to the elections in 2009. The official election results show that the Likud-Beitenu alliance together won 31 seats. Surprising was the victory of the new secular party Yesh Atid, that won 19 seats and came in second. The Israeli Labour Party followed with 15 seats. Another surprise were the 12 seats of the Jewish Home party. The party is led by Naftali Bennet, a former commando and internet millionaire. The obtained seats were not as high as was expected in the polls during the campaign, but nevertheless a significant result. According to the official election results, the National Union obtained 0 seats because the Jewish Home and the National Union were running on a joint list for the elections. The Hatnuah party also took part for the first time in the elections. Eventually the right-wing parties together have won 61-62 seats, against 58-59 for the centre left parties.
On 14 March 2013 Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reached a deal for a governing coalition, in which the Likud-Beitenu will cooperate with Yesh Atid, Hatnua and the Yewish Home party. Netanyahu's ultra-Orthodox traditional coalition allies, Shas and United Torah Judaism, will not be in the new coalition. The reason for this is the fact that the parties are at odds with Yesh Atid and Jewish home over social benefits and military draft exemptions for religious Jews. The coalition was formed just three days ahead of the 16 March deadline for Netanyahu to announce a new government. The government consists of 21 ministers and controls 68 out of a total of 120 Knesset seats, making it the smallest in decades. Yesh Atid has secured 5 ministerial posts and the Yewish Home party 3. The leader of the Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid, is expected to be the Minister of Finance; Netanyahu the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the leader of the Hatnuah party, Tzipi Livni, Minister of Justice. Leader of the Beitenu Party, Avigdor Lieberman, will not obtain a ministerial post, because he is facing charges for fraud.
|Parties in the Knesset||Seats in 2009||Seats in 2013|
|Likud - Beitenu||42||31|
|United Arab list – Arab renewal (Ta- al)||4||4|
|United Torah Judaism||5||7|
Parliamentary elections 2009
The main issue in the general election of 2009 was the war on Gaza and the struggle against the Hamas movement. In December 2008, Israel’s Central Elections Committee (CEC) announced that it had disqualified two Arab political parties from competing in the parliamentary elections. The parties were accused of refusing Israel’s right to exist and the support of violent struggle against it. However, the disqualification was reversed by the High Court of Justice.
Thirty-four parties had submitted lists of candidates for the election to the Knesset and 65,2% of the Israeli voted. After the elections on February 10 it became clear that right-wing parties gained a lot of seats in comparison with the elections in 2006. Despite the victory of centre party Kadima with 28 seats, the right-wing parties gained the majority of the votes. Likud under Benjamin Netanyahu won 27 seats, that is 15 seats more than in 2006. On the whole, the left-wing parties like Labor lost immensely.
Israeli President Peres appointed party leader Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud to form the next government of Israel. It was the first time in Israeli history that the winner of the elections did not lead the formation talks. The majority of the Knesset wanted a right-wing coalition but surprisingly Netanyahu favoured a coalition with Kadima and Labor. Both parties initially rejected this offer. They both favoured the opposition. Prime Minister-designate Netanyahu had to form a government before April 3. Yisrael Beitenu and the Shas easily joined the coalition after negotiation talks, but Benjamin Netanyahu still needed 8 more seats to gain a majority in the Knesset. Surprisingly, he convinced Labor leader Ehud Barak to join the coalition. Netanyahu got a majority of 66 seats in the Knesset. Labor was internally divided because of the decision to join the coalition under Netanyahu.
The President bears the ancient title of the head of the Sanhedrin, the supreme legislative and judicial body of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel in ancient times. The President is the head of state but has only a ceremonial function. He’s symbolizing the nation’s unity, above and beyond party politics. His duties are formal, it includes signing every law. He chooses a member of the Knesset to form the government in consultation with the parties making up the body. The President has the authority to dismiss the Knesset upon request from the prime minister, thus calling new elections. He also signs treaties, appoints judges to the Supreme Court and appoints the governor of the Bank of Israel and other bureaucrats. In addition, the President performs public functions and informal tasks such as hearing citizens’ appeals, lending prestige to community organizations and strengthening campaigns to improve the quality of life in the society at large.
The President is elected by an absolute majority of the Knesset from among candidates nominated on the basis of their personal stature and lifelong contribution to the state. If, by the third round of voting, no candidate receives an absolute majority, a simple majority is all that is required. He is elected for a single term of seven years. Any Israeli citizen who is a resident of the State is eligible to be a presidential candidate. The first election for President occurred in 1949 and resulted in Chaim Weizmann as the first President of Israel.
The current President of Israel is Shimon Peres. On 13 June 2007, the Israeli parliament chose the veteran politician Shimon Peres to succeed Moshe Katsay, who had taken leave of absence from the presidency earlier in the year after being accused of various sexual offences. Peres was a leading member of the Labour party for decades, but left in 2005 and later joined the centrist Kadima party. His opponents were Reuven Rivlin and Colette Avital. After the first round of voting, Peres came just short of the absolute majority required for election. Peres was easily elected in the second round. He got 86 votes out of 120.
Before 1975 national elections were held in conjunction with local elections. The systems were similar. But in 1975 the local election system underwent a major reform. In the new system, local elections are conducted by secret ballot every five years. All permanent residents, whether Israeli citizens or not, are eligible to vote in local elections from age 17 and to be elected from age 21. This means that 4.8 million Israeli are eligible to vote in the municipal elections. Since 1978, voters could cast a double ballot and were therefore able to vote for a candidate for mayor and for a party list on the city council at the same time. This reform was established to increase the independence of local politics and to stabilize the local authorities. The issues of local and national interest were clearly differentiated. On the 11th of November 2008, the municipal elections took place in 160 municipalities. The double ballot was used in all places.
Local council elections
Voters cast a ballot for a party list, not individual members. The minimum percentage of votes to win a seat differs from council to council. For example, in a local authority with 15 council seats, the minimum threshold of votes to gain a seat is 5%. The head of regional councils are selected by the regional council members.
Voters cast a ballot for an individual candidate. In order to be elected mayor, a candidate must win at least 40% of the votes. When two candidates receive more than 40% of the votes, the candidate with the most votes wins. When none of the candidates receive enough votes to garner 40%, a runoff between the two front-running candidates is held two weeks later. The winner of the majority of votes is elected. In the elections of 2008 there were 600 candidates for Mayor, so every city had about four candidates. The turnout for the elections was 42%.
Labor Party (Avoda)
Number of Seats: 15
Leader: Isaac Herzog
Avoda has a full member status in the Socialist International and an observer status at the Party of European Socialists.
Labor is the dominant left-of-centre party in Israel. The party was established in 1968 with the merger between Mapai, Ahudat Ha’avodah and Labor Rafi. Until 1977 every Israeli Prime Minister came from Labor.
In 1992 under Rabin, the party supported peace with the Palestinians. The important role of Labor in the Knesset became to a large extend tied to the Oslo process, based on the principle ‘land for peace’. Rabin was assassinated in 1995.
Labor stands for the enhancement of the social and economic well being of all of Israel’s citizens, the strengthening of Israel’s economy based on free market principles and the achievement of a comprehensive peace with security in the Middle East. In recent years Labor became more a centrist party, similar to the British Labour party under Tony Blair. The approach of the Labor party is now more pragmatic. It recognizes the necessity to compromise in both the domestic arena and in foreign affairs in order to promote political stability and the advancement of Israel’s fundamental interests.
In 2006, several members of the Labor party joined the new centrist grouping Kadima, including Shimon Peres who was former leader of the Labor party, Nobel Peace Prize winner and currently President of Israel. Ehud Barak became party leader of the Labor party. The parliamentary elections in 2009 were disastrous, Labor lost 5 seats in the Knesset. Barak stated that he favoured the opposition, nevertheless he decided to join the coalition under Netanyahu. In 2013 Isaac Herzog became party leader.
Meretz and the New Movement
Number of Seats: 6
Leader: Zahava Gal-On
Meretz-Yahad is a full member observer in the Socialist International and has an observer status at the Party of European Socialists. It’s the second social democratic party of Israel. Meretz was formed in 1992 prior to the elections by an alliance of three left-wing parties: Ratz, Mapam and Shinui. The party stands for human and civil rights, a just and comprehensive Peace between Israel and its neighbours, social justice, ecology and a safe environment. According to the party Israel should be a Jewish and democratic state, belonging to all its citizens, Jews and Arabs alike. Meretz is the only party whose platform presents a comprehensive program to put the nation on the right path to peace.
Peace with the Palestinian people is their highest priority. An independent Palestinian state is necessary to solve the Middle East conflict and to further develop the state of Israel. Meretz had several initiatives to strengthen the civil and human rights in Israel. The basis law on Human dignity and liberty and the basic law on freedom of vocation is initiated by them. The power of the Supreme Court to defend human rights enhanced immediately. Equality between Jews and Arabs, man and women, workers and retirees is their second priority.
Leader: Benjamin Netanyahu
Seats: Likud-Beitenu alliance: 31
The Likud party was established in 1973 when the Herut Movement, Liberal Party, the Free Center, State List and segments of the Land of Israel Movement merged into a single party. The right-wing party dominated Israeli politics in the 1980s and 1990s. Benjamin Netanyahu was Prime Minister from 1996 until 1999. But when several members stepped over to Kadima in 2005, following Sharon, the party lost a lot of influence.
Likud’s philosophy is based on the expansionist objectives of Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, founder of Irgun, a military organization that fought the British and then the Arabs. Now it fights for the Jews’ right to have a state on the land what once was Palestine.
From 2005 the people of Israel slowly changed their opinion about specific issues like security. This happened in 2006 and 2008 when Israel attacked Lebanon and Gaza. With these events the parties right from the political spectrum became more popular and regained some of their influence. Netanyahu used the wars to argue that he would protect the state Israel and his inhabitants much better than his opponents.
Leader: Avigdor Lieberman
Seats: Likud-Beitenu alliance: 12
This is a hard-line nationalistic right-wing political party. It was formed in 1999 by former Likud member, Avigdor Lieberman. He wanted to attract mostly Russian immigrant votes, which supported a harder line in negotiations with the Palestinians. He made a merger with the National Union but this ended in 2005 because it wanted to run independently. This was a successful decision and it won 11 seats. It became more popular after the war in Gaza because they didn’t support the cease-fire by the government of Israel.
Leader: Ofer Shelah
The Yesh Atid is a centrist secular political party that was founded by Year Lapid in the year 2012. The party was running elections for the first time during the general elections of 2013 and won a surprising 19 seats in the Knesset. Former journalist and television star Lapid established the party because he hoped to be a new voice for the Israeli middle class. Yesh Atids’ main goals are to change the governmental system, prioritize education, health and housing, improve the economic conditions of the middle class, fighting corruption and encourage a two-state solution with the Palestinian Territories.
Leader: Naftali Bennett.
A new nationalist religious Zionist party emerged in November 2008 as a spin-off of the National Religious Party and the religious flank of the National Union party. Rabbi Hershkowitz defeated Rabbi Avi Wartzman and Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan. The party was initially nameless, its name was chosen by the people after the election of Hershkowitz. For the 19th Knesset Elections in January 2013, The Jewish Home and the National Union parties merged their two lists and chose a new chairman: Naftali Bennett.
Leader: Eli Yishai
This Sephardic-Haredi party was established in 1984. The stated purpose of the party was to counter a sense of social discrimination among Sephardic religious Jews versus European descendants. Although the party is right-winged, the leader Yishai declared that human life is more important than territories.
The party draws its power and appeal largely thanks to its public adhering to the Sephardic high rabbinical council. Since its formation, the party’s strength kept on growing. In 1999 it won 17 Knesset seats, they achieved a change in the political balance of power in Israel. Later on it lost some of its influence but the party remained important because it could support left and right coalitions.
United Torah Judaism
Leader: Yakov Litzman
A merger between two Orthodox parties, Agudath Israel and the Degel haTorah, resulted in an ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi party. From 1992 the two parties have been running for office together on a joint list. In light of representation considerations for different leading rabbis, party figurers tend to rotate.
The party has always made sure to demand that it heads the Knesset's Finance Committee in order to exercise control over the State budget. United Torah Judaism opposes negotiations with the Palestinians and the formation of a Palestinian state, and it wants to maintain a status quo relationship in regard to religion and state issues. They also supports increasing settlements throughout the West bank for economic, social and security reasons.
Leader: Tzipi Livni
Hatnuah is a political party that was formed by dissidents of the Kadima in 2012. The party was running in elections for the first time during the general elections in 2013. Although it seemed unlikely that the party would cross the two percent threshold, the party won 6 seats in the Knesset. The party is a liberal party that Israel did not had since 2006.
United Arab List- Ra’am (Ta’al)
Leader: Ibrahim Sarsur
Ra’am was established prior to the 1996 general elections, in order to ensure that Israeli Arabs are represented in the Knesset. It joined forces with the Arab Democratic Party before the elections. Later on, the two merged completely under Ra’am. Before the elections in 2006 it ran together with Ta’al to win more seats.
Leader: Mohammed Barakeh
Hadash or the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality is a left-wing political party formed in 1997. It defines itself as a Jewish-Arab Party. Hadash is the current political arm of Maki, having evolved from Rakach and associated itself with various Arab factions (including lately, Balad and Ta'al). Hadash remains associated with Maki the communist party.
From its inception Hadash advocated a complete Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967, recognition of the PLO and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel in addition to full equality for Israel’s Arab citizens. It’s original goal was to create cooperation between members of the Israeli Communist Party and other non-members through a new joint platform.
National Democratic Party - Balad
Leader: Jamal Zahalka
Balad or National Democratic Assembly, is an Arab nationalist party which was formed in 1995 as means to create political awareness within the Arab/Palestinian population in Israel. The party’s inception followed the Oslo accords which it declared a grave mistake. Their main goal is to turn Israel from a Jewish state into a democratic one, calling for the complete separation of religion and state.
Leader: Shaul Mofaz
Kadima was formed by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon after he formally left the right-wing Likud party in 2005. Several Knesset members from other political parties such as Labor and Likud immediately joined the new party. Shimon Peres, formal Labor member is now President of Israel under Kadima.
In the early stages, the policies of Kadima directly reflected the views of Sharon and his stated policies. He wanted to establish a new party which would grant him the freedom to carry out his policy of unilateral disengagement plan, fixing Israel’s borders and giving up some (remote) Israeli settlements without (peace) negotiations with the Palestinians. He argued that a part of the occupied Palestinian land should be given up to maintain a Jewish and democratic state. When Sharon stepped down, after a massive stroke, Ehud Olmert took over control. After a political scandal in September 2008, his Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was voted Chairwoman. Kadima lost a lot of seats in the elections of 2013.
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President (since July 2014)
Reuven Rivlin was born in 1939. After receiving a law degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem that made him a lawyer, he decided to get involved in politics and was elected to the 12th Knesset in 1988. Between 1988 and 1993 he served as Likud Chairman, and became Knesset speaker in 2003. After losing against Shimon Peres in the 2007 elections for President, he stood again in the 2014 elections, which he won by 63 seats against 53 for his opponent Meir Sheetrit.
His political vision differs from his predecessor, being known as a defender of “Greater Israel” encompassing the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state. Usually introduced as a political hardliner, he supports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies, especially the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Nevertheless, he enjoys good relations with Arab and left-wing political leaders, notably due to his stance in favour of democratic rights of minorities. He has called for a "true partnership" between Jews and Arabs and the end of the current clashes in Gaza.
Rivlin is married and has four children
Former President (2007-2014)
Born in 1923, Shimon Peres has had a long career in Israeli politics before becoming president. Peres has been member of 12 cabinets, serving twice as Prime Minister and once as Interim Prime Minister in his 66-year long career in politics. Peres was born in Poland, but immigrated to Palestine at a young age. Peres was first elected to the parliament in 1959 as a member of the centre-left Mapai party. He later left Mapai to start a new party named Rafi with first Prime Minister of Israel David Ben-Gurion. The party joined the left-wing alliance The Alignment in 1968 where Peres continued to challenge Yitzhak Rabin for the party chairmanship. Since Peres succeeded Rabin as party leader in 1977 he has almost continuously been at the top of Israeli politics. He left the left-wing Labor party in 2005 to join the liberal Kadima party of Ariel Sharon, he became president in 2007.
In 2005 Peres was voted the 11th-greatest Israeli of all time, in a poll, he also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from US President Barak Obama. Peres was in the beginning of his career considered a war-favouring ‘hawk’, he was a supporter of the West Bank settlers in the 1970s. Later his stance evolved and he was more and more seen as a strong supporter of peace through economic cooperation and economic integration in the Middle East. Peres was strongly associated with the Oslo accords and remained a supporter of the Palestinian Authority. However, Peres supported Ariel Sharon's military policy of operating the Israeli Defence Forces to put a stop to suicide bombings.
He was replaced by Reouven Rivlin on July 28 2014.
(Photo: World Economic Forum)
Benjamin Netanyahu, born in 1949, is the first Israeli born prime minister of Israel. Netanyahu has a military background, he took part in many missions and was once shot in his shoulder. He became a team leader of a special forces unit and achieved the rank of captain before entering politics. Netanyahu started his political career as Ambassador to the United Nations while being member of the centre-right Likud party. As Likud politician he became Prime Minister from 1996 to 1999, he withdrew from politics in 1999 after losing the elections against Labor leader Ehud Barak, but returned in 2002. Netanyahu held several ministerial posts before becoming Prime Minister again in 2009 in a right-wing government.
Netanyahu is seen as a hard-liner when it comes to the Palestinian question, he criticized the Oslo accords and his first term as Prime Minister saw a slow-down in the peace process. He is opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian State and continues to argue for the right of "natural growth" in the existing Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Netanyahu believes in ‘economic peace’. His government, while falling under heavy international criticism, has lifted several checkpoints in the West Bank, allowing for more freedom of movement and resulting in an economic boost.
(Photo: Talk Radio News Service)
Party leader of Labor and leader of the opposition
Isaac Herzog was born in 1960 and is an attorney. He studied both in Tel Aviv and in the United States (Cornell University and New York University). His father is former Israeli President Chaim Herzog, and his grandfather Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog.
He started in politics in Ehud Barak's cabinet from 1999 to 2001, and became member of the Knesset in 2003 with the Labor Party.
Elected leader of the Labor Party in November 2013 against Shelly Yachimovich, he has been focusing largely on security issues as well as the resolution of conflicts with Palestinians within a two state solution.
Herzog speaks Hebrew, English and Arabic, is married and has three children.
Political parties and government
History, elections and current situation
Important political issues