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1. Israel


Country in SW Asia, bounded N by Lebanon, E by Syria and Jordan, S by the Gulf of Aqaba, and W by Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea.
Israel has no written constitution. In 1950 the single-chamber legislature, the Knesset, voted to adopt a state constitution by evolution over an unspecified period of time. As in the UK, certain laws are considered to have particular constitutional significance and could, at some time, be codified into a single written document.
Supreme authority rests with the Knesset, whose 120 members are elected by universal suffrage, through a system of proportional representation, for a four-year term. It is subject to dissolution within that period. The president is constitutional head of state and is elected by the Knesset for a five-year term, renewable only once. The prime minister and cabinet are mostly drawn from, and collectively responsible to, the Knesset, but occasionally a cabinet member may be chosen from outside.
The Zionist movement, calling for an independent community for Jews in their historic homeland of Palestine, began in the 19th century, and in 1917 Britain declared its support for the idea. In 1920 the League of Nations placed Palestine under British administration, and the British government was immediately faced with the rival claims of Jews who wished to settle there and the indigenous Arabs who opposed them. In 1937 Britain proposed separate Arab and Jewish communities; this was accepted by the Jews but not by the Arabs, and fighting broke out between them. In Europe, the Nazi Holocaust killed about 6 million Jews, and hundreds of thousands tried to get to Palestine before, during, and after World War II 1939–45. Many survivors could no longer live in Europe.
creation of Israel
In 1947 the British plan for partition was supported by the United Nations, and when Britain ended its Palestinian mandate 1948, an independent State of Israel was proclaimed, with David Ben-Gurion as prime minister. Neighboring Arab states sent forces to crush Israel but failed, and when a cease-fire agreement was reached 1949, Israel controlled more land than had been originally allocated to it. The non-Jewish-occupied remainder of Palestine, known as the West Bank, was occupied by Jordan. The creation of Israel encouraged Jewish immigration on a large scale, about 2 million having arrived from all over the world by 1962. Hundreds of thousands of Arab residents fled from Israel to neighboring countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon. In 1964 a number of Palestinian Arabs in exile founded the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), aiming to overthrow Israel.
Arab–Israeli wars
During the 1960s there was considerable tension between Israel and Egypt, which, under President Nasser, had become a leader in the Arab world. His nationalization of the Suez Canal 1956 provided an opportunity for Israel, with Britain and France, to attack Egypt and occupy a part of Palestine that Egypt had controlled since 1949, the Gaza Strip, from which Israel was forced by UN and US pressure to withdraw 1957. Ten years later, in the Six-Day War, Israel gained the whole of Jerusalem, the West Bank area of Jordan, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai peninsula in Egypt, and the Golan Heights in Syria. All were placed under Israeli law, although the Sinai was returned to Egypt under the terms of the Camp David Agreements. Ben-Gurion resigned 1963 and was succeeded by Levi Eshkol, leading a coalition government; in 1968 three of the coalition parties combined to form the Israel Labour Party. In 1969 Golda Meir became Labour Party prime minister. In Oct 1973, toward the end of her administration, the Yom Kippur War brok
e out on the holiest day of the Jewish year. Israel was attacked by Egypt and Syria, and after nearly three weeks of fighting, with heavy losses, a cease-fire was agreed. Golda Meir resigned 1974 and was succeeded by General Yitzhak Rabin, heading a Labour-led coalition.
Camp David Agreements
In the 1977 elections the Consolidation Party (Likud) bloc, led by Menachem Begin, won an unexpected victory, and Begin became prime minister. Within five months relations between Egypt and Israel changed dramatically, mainly owing to initiatives by President Sadat of Egypt, encouraged by US president Jimmy Carter. Setting a historical precedent for an Arab leader, Sadat visited Israel to address the Knesset 1977, and the following year the Egyptian and Israeli leaders met at Camp David, in the US, to sign agreements for peace in the Middle East. A treaty was signed 1979, and in 1980 Egypt and Israel exchanged ambassadors, to the dismay of most of the Arab world.
Israeli forces enter Lebanon
Israel withdrew from Sinai by 1982 but continued to occupy the Golan Heights. In the same year Israel, without consulting Egypt, entered Lebanon and surrounded W Beirut, in pursuit of 6,000 PLO fighters who were trapped there. A split between Egypt and Israel was avoided by the efforts of the US special negotiator Philip Habib, who secured the evacuation from Beirut to other Arab countries of about 15,000 PLO and Syrian fighters Aug 1982.
Israel's alleged complicity in massacres in two Palestinian refugee camps increased Arab hostility. Talks between Israel and Lebanon, between Dec 1982 and May 1983, resulted in an agreement, drawn up by US secretary of state George Shultz, calling for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon within three months. Syria refused to acknowledge the agreement, and left some 30,000 troops, with about 7,000 PLO members, in the northeast; Israel retaliated by refusing to withdraw its forces from the south.
economic problems
During this time Begin faced growing domestic problems, including rapidly rising inflation and opposition to his foreign policies. In 1983 he resigned, and Yitzhak Shamir formed a shaky coalition. Elections July 1984 proved inconclusive, with the Labour Alignment, led by Shimon Peres, winning 44 seats in the Knesset, and Likud, led by Shamir, 41.
Neither leader was able to form a viable coalition, but it was eventually agreed that a government of national unity would be formed, with Peres as prime minister for the first 25 months, until Oct 1986, and Shamir as his deputy, and then a reversal of the positions.
Israeli forces withdraw
Meanwhile the problems in Lebanon continued. In 1984, under pressure from Syria, President Gemayel of Lebanon abrogated the 1983 treaty with Israel, but the government of national unity in Tel Aviv continued to plan the withdrawal of its forces, although it might lead to outright civil war in S Lebanon. Guerrilla groups of the Shiite community of S Lebanon took advantage of the situation by attacking the departing Israeli troops. Israel retaliated by attacking Shiite villages. Most of the withdrawal was complete by June 1985. Prime Minister Peres met King Hussein of Jordan secretly in the south of France 1985, and later, in a speech to the UN, Peres said he would not rule out the possibility of an international conference on the Middle East. PLO leader Yassir Arafat also had talks with Hussein and later, in Cairo, renounced PLO guerrilla activity outside Israeli-occupied territory. Domestically, the government of national unity was having some success with its economic policies, inflation falling in 1986 to m
anageable levels, but from 1987 it was faced with an organized Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories, the Intifada.
political crisis
The Nov 1988 general election resulted in a hung parliament; after lengthy negotiations, Shamir formed another coalition with Peres and the Labour Party. Shamir's harsh handling of Palestinian protests, and differences over dealings with the PLO, broke the partnership March 1990 when the coalition fell after a vote of no confidence. After a three-month political crisis, Shamir succeeded in forming a new coalition government which included members of Likud and far-right nationalist and religious parties.
proposals for occupied territories
Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak proposed a ten-point program for elections in the occupied territories leading toward an unspecified form of autonomous self-rule. Labour quickly agreed to the provisions, and the US approved the plan. In 1989 Likud accepted some of the provisions but remained opposed to any PLO role in the negotiations. In Oct 1990 the killing of at least 19 Palestinians by Israeli troops on Jerusalem's Temple Mount drew widespread international condemnation.
In Jan 1991 the Gulf War erupted with UN-coalition air raids against Iraq. In retaliation, Scud missiles were launched against Israel and Israel's nonretaliation was widely praised.
In Aug 1991 Shamir agreed to an amended Middle East peace plan, and in Sept released a number of Palestinian prisoners as part of a hostage exchange.
Shamir loses majority
The extreme fundamentalists in Shamir's coalition withdrew their support Jan 1992 because of their dissatisfaction with Israel's participation in the Middle East peace talks. This left Shamir with the prospect of a general election to try to restore his majority in the Knesset. In Feb 1992 Yitzhak Rabin replaced Shimon Peres as leader of the Israel Labour Party. In the national elections held June 1992 the Labour party defeated Likud, and a month later Rabin was confirmed as the country's new prime minister, heading the first Labor-dominated government since 1977. In Aug 1992 US-Israeli relations improved when US president Bush and Rabin agreed a loan pact to aid Israel's absorption of several hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jewish emigrés. The move solved an issue considered to be a major obstacle in the Middle East peace talks.
expulsion of Palestinians
In Dec 1992, 400 Palestinians, alleged to be members of the outlawed Hamas Islamic Resistance Movement, were expelled from Israel and the occupied territories and obliged to set up camp in “no man’s land” on the Lebanese border (requests for asylum having been refused by Lebanon). Despite subsequent UN condemnation of the expulsion, the Israeli government refused to reconsider its decision.
In Jan 1993 the ban on contacts with the PLO was formally lifted, and in Feb the government agreed to allow 100 of the 400 deported Palestinians to return to Israel. This move was welcomed by the US government but condemned as insufficient by Arabs. In March the Knesset elected Ezer Weizman president, and in the same month Binyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu succeeded Yitzhak Shamir as leader of the Likud party. The Middle East peace process resumed in Washington in April, with face-to face talks between Palestinians and Israelis. Israel renewed attacks against southern Lebanon in July in an attempt to force the Lebanese government to take action against Hezbollah units based there, which had been attacking Israeli targets. The scale and ferocity of the Israeli action brought widespread international criticism and threatened to derail the Middle East peace process.
Israeli–PLO peace accord
In Sept 1993, Rabin and PLO leader Yassir Arafat reached a preliminary peace agreement in Washington, based on mutual recognition and providing for limited autonomy in the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho and a phased withdrawal of Israeli troops from the occupied territories. The accord followed several months of Norwegian-mediated talks between Israel and the PLO, made possible by Israel's recognition in Sept of the PLO's right to participate in the peace process. In Dec 1993 the last of the Palestinian deportees in S Lebanon were allowed to return.
Talks on implementation of the Sept 1993 accord stalled after outbreaks of extremist violence in the occupied territories, which began with the massacre in Hebron of 39 Palestinian worshipers by an Israeli settler Feb 1994. The talks resumed after UN condemnation of the massacre and in May 1994 the first phase of the accord (the Gaza-Jericho agreement) was finalized and signed in Cairo. By the end of the month Israeli troops had been withdrawn (although many were relocated around Jewish settlements) and a Palestinian police force had been drafted in to replace them. In July 1994 the 46-year-old “state of war” with Jordan was formally ended and a future peace with Syria seemed credible. In the same month Yassir Arafat returned from exile to head an interim body, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), appointed to govern the newly liberated territories until the holding of free elections.
extremist violence
Extremist attacks, principally the work of the militant Islamic groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, continued. In Oct 1994 Rabin, Arafat, and foreign minister, Shimon Peres, were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. In Nov 1994, following several attacks by militant suicide bombers, Israel closed its borders with the Gaza Strip. A limited number of work permits were later issued, but the closures increased pressure on the largely PLO-dominated PNA, who since assuming power had had to come to terms with the reality of a strong, and potentially hostile, fundamentalist presence in Gaza. In Feb 1995 the peace process stalled over the issues of militant violence and continued Israeli settlement, but later resumed. Rabin was assassinated following a peace rally in Tel Aviv Nov 1995.
Jewish republic in southwestern Asia at eastern end of Mediterranean; formerly part of Palestine; Also called: Yisrael, Zion.
Ancient kingdom of N Palestine, formed after the death of Solomon by Jewish peoples seceding from the rule of his son Rehoboam and electing Jeroboam in his place.
It is named for the descendants of the Old Testament patriarch Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel. Jews believe that the land of Israel was given to them for ever by God when he brought them out of Egypt under Moses’ guidance. The name is therefore sometimes used to refer to the Jews themselves, as in “the people of Israel” or, in the context of biblical times, “Israelites”.