Israel’s population in 2015 was estimated to be around 8.3 million people, making it the most populous country in the Middle East. The majority of Israeli citizens identify as Jewish, with sizeable minorities of Muslim and Christian people also present. The Israeli economy is heavily reliant on services and exports, with the sector accounting for roughly two-thirds of the country’s GDP. Other exports include agricultural products and technology. Israel has strong trade ties with its Middle Eastern neighbours, particularly Egypt and Jordan, as well as other countries worldwide. In terms of politics, Israel is a parliamentary republic with a multi-party system. In 2015 Benjamin Netanyahu was the Prime Minister after winning reelection in 2013. In foreign relations, Israel is a member of both the United Nations and Arab League and is actively involved in international affairs such as peacekeeping operations. Relations with its Middle Eastern neighbours have been mostly positive but tensions remain between Israel and Palestine over territorial disputes. See ehealthfacts for Israel in the year of 2005.
Israel. Ahead of the extra-ordinary parliamentary elections on March 17, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that a two-state solution would not be a reality as long as he remained in power. It was last year that Netanyahu disbanded Parliament and announced that a new election would be held. According to COUNTRYAAH, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel which is located in Western Asia. The electoral movement was largely about security policy but also about economic and social issues.
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In March, Netanyahu traveled to the United States to invite Republicans to talk about “the threat from Iran”. US President Barack Obama responded to the visit, which had not been announced to the White House, by refusing to meet Netanyahu, who was accused at home of damaging Israel-US relations. During the election campaign, Netanyahu also received criticism from government teams for using state funds for private purposes.
Despite the criticism, Netanyahu won an unexpectedly strong victory in the parliamentary elections and, after seven weeks of negotiations, was able to form government with the support of the newly formed center-right party Kulanu and the resident-friendly right-wing party Beit Yehudi (Jewish home), which profiled itself as strong opponents of a two-state solution. The government also included the two ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and the United Torah Party. Together, the five government parties got 61 of Knesset’s 120 seats, 30 of which went to the Prime Minister’s right Likud. Ahead of the election, the two largest opposition parties (the Labor Party and Hatnua) had joined forces in the left-liberal alliance of the Zionist Union, which ended up in second place with 24 seats.
At the beginning of the year, military confrontations occurred at the border with Lebanon between the Israeli military and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, accused of planning attacks against Israel. In January, several high-ranking leaders in the movement were killed, who responded by attacking Israeli military vehicles.
In January, a Palestinian from Hebron was sentenced to life imprisonment for last summer’s assassination of three Israeli youths, an event that became the starting point for the war in Gaza that lasted for just over two months and where about 2,200 Palestinians and 73 Israelis died. Shortly after Palestine became an official member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in January, the court opened its first investigation into possible war crimes committed by Israel during last summer’s Gaza war.
Despite harsh criticism and condemnations from the outside world, during the year, clear signs were given for the construction of several new settlements on Palestinian land, including in East Jerusalem. In February, a legal process was completed against a settlement on the West Bank where Israeli settlers were accused of having built illegal housing on private Palestinian land.
In May, several demonstrations were held in Tel Aviv against racism and discrimination, which gathered thousands of Israelis of mainly Ethiopian origin. The demonstration was held in connection with the publication of a video showing how an Israeli soldier of Ethiopian origin is being abused by two police officers. When police stormed the demonstration, at least 50 people were injured.
At the end of July, several people were stabbed by an ultra-Orthodox Jew who attacked a Pride Parade in Jerusalem. The event gave rise to demonstrations in major cities such as Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. Demonstrations were also held to draw attention to an Israeli terrorist attack in the Palestinian village of Duma on the West Bank, where a small child was killed in a massacre set on fire by militant settlers. The incident was described as a revenge attack because the suspected settlers had written “long live the Messiah” and “revenge” in Hebrew on the house walls.
During the autumn, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians around the Temple Mount in Jerusalem intensified. Violent clashes also occurred in the West Bank’s largest city Hebron. During the fall, fatalities and knife attacks occurred almost every day in central Hebron, where a few hundred Israeli settlers lived surrounded by 250,000 Palestinians.
In November, the EU adopted guidelines to originate goods from Israeli settlements. The decision was condemned by the Israeli government, which canceled several meetings with the EU. The Israeli Peace Now movement welcomed the decision and said it was an important support for the democratic forces in Israel.
Blockade of Gaza costly for Palestinians
Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip has cost the Palestinian economy $ 16.7 billion in more than a decade, the UN said. This corresponds to six times Gaza’s gross domestic product in 2018 or 107 percent of Palestine’s total GDP (including the West Bank). The calculations can be found in a report made by the UN agency Unctad for the UN General Assembly. Unctad states that the isolation has led to Gaza’s economy almost collapsing and that unemployment is up to 52 percent. The blockade has been going on since the Islamist movement Hamas took local power in the area in 2007. Now infrastructure needs to be rebuilt and trade with Gaza needs to be allowed as soon as possible, as well as family reunification, according to Unctad, which also urges militant Palestinians to stop firing rockets at Israel.
Media: Netanyahu on Saudi trip
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting Saudi Arabia for talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to reports in Israel. No meeting is officially confirmed, but usually well-informed media outline details of a trip with a private plane that has been used in the past by Netanyahu. A diplomatic recognition from Saudi Arabia would be a greater success for Israel than the agreements reached with other Arab countries by 2020. For Saudi Arabia’s new megacity Neom, which is part of the future Vision 2030 project, cooperation with Israel could be crucial. Both countries also have reason to monitor what foreign policy the United States will pursue when Donald Trump, who has acted in both Israeli and Saudi interests, not least against Iran, will soon have to leave the presidency.
Air strike against pro-Iranian militia
Iranian-backed militia in easternmost Syria, near the border with Iraq, is under attack. According to SOHR , it is probably Israeli fighter jets that attack ten of the militia’s positions in the area. 14 militiamen lose their lives, eight of whom are said to be Iraqis and six Afghans. The pro-Iranian militia is reported to be moving near the border, in places formerly held by Islamic State (IS) jihadists before the Sunni extremist movement was driven from its strongholds. During the following week, air strikes will take place against more targets on Syria’s eastern border and on the outskirts of Damascus. Israel is also singled out for these attacks, which in total require at least 30 lives.
US Secretary of State visits residence
As the first US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo visits an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. The visit to the Psagot is another expression of President Trump’s support for Israel’s claim to occupied land. The outside world sees the settlements as illegal: according to international law, it is forbidden for an occupying power to move in its own population. Pompeo’s travel plans include a visit to the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel but Syrian soil according to international views (see March 25, 2019). Pompeo announces on the same day that the United States has classified an international movement that advocates a boycott of Israel as anti-Semitic. The BDS movement bases its boycott on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and says it rejects all racism, including anti-Semitism.
Iranians among deaths in Israeli attacks
The Israeli army states that Iranian and Syrian positions in Syria have been attacked and that this was in response to explosives being found near the Israeli military on the Golan Heights. About ten deaths are reported by SOHR, of which five are Iranian. The Golan is Syrian land that Israel has occupied since 1967, Israelis have also moved into the area since the occupation began. Israel repeatedly attacks military targets in Syria, especially those linked to Iran’s involvement in the Syrian civil war, but the Israeli military rarely confirms or comments on the operation. In this case, Israel accuses Iran of having persuaded Syrians to place the explosives on the Golan.
Palestinian-Israeli cooperation resumes
The Palestinian Authority is resuming its security cooperation with Israel, the Minister of Civil Affairs in the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank announces. Cooperation was frozen with reference to Israel’s stated plans to annex occupied Palestinian land (see 19 May). Israel later promised, in exchange for the United Arab Emirates’ recognition of Israel, to let the annexation plans rest. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh is now saying that co-operation on financial issues, health and politics will also be resumed. As an occupying power, Israel has international legal responsibility for the civilian population in Palestinian territories. Since the peace process in the 1990s, there has also been far-reaching cooperation between governing bodies in a number of areas. For example, Israel raises tariffs and taxes from Palestinians, money that is then to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority. The Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, opposes resuming cooperation with Israel.
Biden wants to change parts of US policy
The United States will not tear up Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the campaign staff behind Joe Biden, the newly elected president, announced. However, a US consulate in East Jerusalem will reopen to improve relations with the Palestinians. Biden also says that US humanitarian aid to the Palestinians should be resumed; under Trump’s mandate, aid was frozen via UNRWA (see 16 January 2018 and 24 August 2018). Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanks Trump but welcomes the election of Biden, who over the years has expressed support for Israel in many respects but has been critical of Israel’s growing settlements on occupied land.
UN criticism of demolition in the West Bank
The UN criticizes Israel for the demolition of Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank. More than 70 people, among them more than 40 children, become homeless during the demolition in Khumsa in the Jordan Valley. Israel considers Bedouin settlement illegal, while the UN humanitarian coordination organization Ocha considers that the demolition, which took place two days earlier, violates international law.
Time limit in heavy conscription issue
The Supreme Court sets a time limit in the controversial question of whether students in religious schools should be exempt from military service. By 1 February, the government must ensure that there is legislation in place that regulates the exemptions. If not, the yeshiva students will be called up for military service like all other Israelis. In the broad strata of the population, it is not popular for the ultra-Orthodox students of religious seminars to avoid doing the dirty work. A number of bills on the issue have appeared over the years, and HD has repeatedly moved the deadline forward. Military service is an issue with great political explosiveness in Israel, especially as the Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sought the support of the ultra-Orthodox parties to retain government power.
Malawi opens embassy in Jerusalem
Malawi will follow the example of the United States, as the first African state, and locate its Israeli embassy in Jerusalem. The message is provided by the Foreign Ministers of Malawi and Israel. Malawi has no mission to move from Tel Aviv. Diplomatic relations between the two countries date back to 1964, but there has been no Malawian embassy in Israel.