Mankind goes back a long way in the country we now know as Israel. Way before religion and politics created the conflict ridden land it is today, Israel was the home to waves of peoples from Africa.
The story of Christianity, Judaism and Islam is not for this brief, although needless to say it is an intrinsic undercurrent in the history of Israel. The various powers that once ruled over Israel have also played their part, including the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Ottomans; not forgetting of course the Christians and their Crusades between the 11th and 13th Centuries.
Modern history really starts with the arrival of the Ottomans around 1516 when the region became part of Ottoman Syria (it is also referred to as the Levant, Orient and Greater Syria depending upon the era and the country using the terminology).
The Ottomans always held a loose control over their territories, often using local rulers to act on their behalf. That meant invasions from time to time, and during the four hundred year period of Ottoman rule, the country was invaded by Napoleon briefly in 1799 and Muhammad Ali of Egypt in 1831. The Ottomans were also used to putting down revolts and in this region the Druze were their most troublesome subjects.
Meanwhile, the late 1800s saw millions of Jews leaving Europe as a result of growing anti-Semitism and persecution. Many moved to America, but an increasing number moved to Palestine (Southern Levant). Increasingly they sought an identity and in 1896 a Jewish Austro-Hungarian journalist named Theodore Herzl published a book entitled Der Judenstaat or the Jewish State which argued for the establishment of a Jewish homeland. The idea took hold and an ever growing Jewish population in Palestine started to establish their own communities and culture.
World War One then intervened and towards the end of the war the British drove the Ottomans out of southern Greater Syria and in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 the British government accepted the idea of a national home for the Jewish people.
Following the Great War, the British Mandate of Palestine was confirmed by the League of Nations in 1922 and was to last until 1948. The First World War had also seen a further influx of Jews, mainly from Russia and the Ukraine, but at the same time a growing Palestinian nationalism was starting to emerge. Even more Jews arrived from Poland and Hungary between 1924 and 1929.
The tension between the Jews and majority Arab community eventually spilled over in 1929 into Palestinian riots over the use of the Wailing Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem.
As Europe slid towards war once more in the 1930s, there was an even larger influx of European Jews into Palestine, all with the support of the British Government who, in effect, ruled the country. Unsurprisingly, the increased immigration of Jews, when they were prevented from entering most other countries in the world, led to an Arab revolt between 1936 and 1939. The British government came up with the ineffectual White Paper of 1939 (MacDonald White Paper) which proposed an independent Palestine which would be governed by Arabs and Jews jointly. It was rejected by both sides whilst each started to arm themselves.
The history of the Second World War is well known and the holocaust which led to the deaths of more than 6 million Jews across Europe. Even more Jews moved into Palestine, not just from Europe but across the Arab world as well.
The inevitable happened when, in the late 1940s, an anti-British movement led by David Ben-Gurion waged a guerrilla war against the British. The British referred the problem to the United Nations which came up with a solution little different from that proposed ten years before. Although Resolution 181(II) was adopted and the British completed their withdrawal by 1948, it was a capitulation in many ways.
The inevitable result of this was civil war in Palestine. At first it took the form of murders followed by reprisals and then counter-reprisals. On 14th May 1948 the Jewish People’s Council proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel, which led to the intervention of Arab State armies, but most crucially the Arab Legion of Transjordan.
After initial losses, the new Israel Defence Force (IDF) was too much for the Arabs and by mid-1949 it was all over. The new state of Israel became a member of the United Nations on 11th May 1949.
The first elections to the new 120 seat Constituent Assembly were held in January 1949; within days the chamber had been renamed the Knesset and this became the First Knesset. David Ben-Gurion became the first Prime Minister of Israel. Since then there have been 18 Knessets and a turbulent history of wars with neighbours, as well as an evolution of the political parties.
The winner of the first election, Mapai, can trace its succession through to the modern day Labor Party. Mapam, a left wing party that came second in the first election, dissolved in 1997 but its successor is probably Meretz. Herut, another party that fought the 1949 general election, coming fourth, merged with several other parties in 1988 to become Likud. The Jewish Home is a merger of several right wing Zionist parties, but predominantly from another 1949 player, the National Religious Party. Kadima, the main opposition party in the Knesset today, is the only really new party, although even that was formed by dissidents from Labor and Likud back in 2005.
The electoral system has always lent itself to coalitions and this in itself has caused problems within governments over the years. In the 1996 and 1999 general elections, Israel dabbled with the idea of having a separately elected Prime Minister; Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak respectively. The idea was not a great success and was dropped for the 2003 election.
Beyond the internal politics there have been wars. The 1956 Suez/Sinai Campaign, the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War (involving Egypt and Syria).
The year 1977 was notable in that Likud formed its first government after nearly 30 years of Mapai/Labor Party rule; 1978 led to the Camp David Accords and in 1979 Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt signed the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty.
In 1982 Israel was back at war, but this time with Lebanon.
The first Palestinian Intifada began in 1987 and was to last six years. In 1993, the Oslo I Accord was witnessed by PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The Accord was an attempt to resolve the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was the first face to face agreement between the two combatants.
In 1994 Israel made its peace with Jordan, but the following year Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a radical right-wing Orthodox Jew who opposed the signing of the Oslo Accords.
By 2000 Israel withdrew from Lebanon and was in talks at Camp David brokered by US President Bill Clinton. In the September a second Palestinian Intifada began. The next few years were dominated by talks, the collapse of talks and then more talks. In 2006 there was a second war with Lebanon and in 2007, at the Middle East Summit in Annapolis, the Israelis and Palestinians agreed to implement a roadmap. However the building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank continued, despite several freezes to allow space for negotiations.
In 2007 the Palestinians had their own problems when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip and Fatah became dominant in the West Bank; the Arab community has been trying to bring the two sides together ever since. Currently there is a joint government covering the two territories but it continues to be rather tenuous.
Meanwhile Israel has occupied Gaza more than once as it tried to stop Hamas rockets being fired into Israeli territory. Between July and August 2014 the Israeli Defence Force attacked Gaza in Operation Protective Edge after Hamas militia had fired rockets into Israel. Around 2,100 Palestinian civilians were killed and 11,000 injured whilst Israel lost 66 soldiers and six civilians.
So the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears no closer to an end and the results of the snap general election in 2015 held no answers. The 2013 general election left Benjamin Netanyahu’s centre-right Likud Yisrael Beiteinu alliance with 31 of the 120 seats in the Knesset. Eventually Prime Minister Netanyahu established a coalition with the centrist Yesh Atid, the right-wing orthodox Jewish Home and the centrist Hatnuah, which gave the coalition 68 seats.
Eighteen months later and Yisrael Beiteinu had dissolved its alliance with Likud. By November 2014 Ministers were resigning from the Cabinet and in the December Prime Minister Netanyahu dismissed Yair Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid, and the leader of Hatnuah, Tzipi Livni, from his Cabinet. This meant that the coalition was over and an election was called for March 2015.
Against all the odds, opinion poll predictions and some iffy promises Likud won 30 seats in the 120 seat 20th Knesset. The centre-left Zionist Union consisting of the Labor Party and Hatnuah had been trailed as the possible winners but they came second with 24 seats. For the first time four Arab dominated parties were able to settle their differences and fight together on something called the Joint List; it was a success and they emerged as the third largest party with 13 seats.
Netanyahu, having previously alienated a number of potential coalition partners, eventually formed a government between Likud, the right-wing Jewish Home, the ultra-orthodox United Torah Judaism, a new centrist and socially liberal party called Kulanu, and the ultra-orthodox Shas to give the coalition 61 seats. This toxic mix may not last all that long.
The President is elected by the Knesset for a seven-year term with a one term limit.
The unicameral Knesset has 120 seats. The political parties are elected by popular vote and assigned seats for members on a proportional basis with members serving four-year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Israel at 28th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 64 (where 100 is least corrupt).