U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Israel, October 1996
Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs
Official Name: State of Israel
Area: 20,325 sq. km. [fn 1] (7,850 sq. mi.); about the size of New Jersey.
Cities: Capital--Jerusalem. [fn 2] Other cities--Tel Aviv, Haifa.
Terrain: Plains, mountains, desert, and coast.
Climate: Temperate, except in desert areas.
Population (1996): 5.7 million.
Annual growth rate (1996): 2.5%.
Ethnic groups (1996): Jewish 4.6 million; non-Jewish 1.1 million.
Religions: Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Druze.
Languages: Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, English.
Education: Years compulsory--11; Literacy--Jewish 97%, Arab 90%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (1995)-- 6.8/1000. Life expectancy--79 years.
Work force (2.1 million): Manufacturing--21%. Commerce--13%. Education--12%.
Health and social services--9%. Other business services--9%. Construction--7%.
Other--7%. Transportation--6%. Public Administration--5%. Hotels and
restaurants--4%. Banking and finance--3%. Agriculture--3%. Electricity and
Type: Parliamentary democracy.
Independence: May 14, 1948.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state); prime minister (head of
government). Legislative--unicameral, Knesset. Judicial--Supreme Court.
Political parties: Likud/Gesher/Tsomet bloc, Labor Party, and various other
secular and religious parties, including some wholly or predominantly supported
by Israel's Arab citizens. A total of 16 parties -- some allied in unified
blocs -- are represented in the 14th Knesset, elected May 29, 1996.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP: $87 billion.
Annual growth rate: 7.1%.
Per capita GDP: $15,800.
Natural resources: Copper, phosphate, bromide, potash, clay, sand, sulphur,
Agriculture: Products--citrus and other fruits, vegetables, beef, dairy,
Industry: Types--food processing, diamond cutting and polishing, textiles and
clothing, chemicals, metal products, transport equipment, electrical equipment,
high technology electronics.
Trade: Exports--$17.9 billion: polished diamonds, citrus and other fruits,
chemical and oil products, electrical and electronic products, textiles and
clothing, processed foods. Tourism is also an important foreign exchange
earner. Imports--$28.0 billion: military equipment, rough diamonds, oil,
chemicals, machinery, iron and steel, textiles, vehicles, ships and aircraft.
Major partners--U.S., F.R.G., U.K., France, Belgium, Luxembourg.
Exchange rate: approximately 3.01 New Israeli Shekels=U.S. $1 (1996 August).
fn 1 -- Including Jerusalem
fn 2 -- Israel proclaimed Jerusalem as its capital in 1950. The United States,
like nearly all other countries, maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv.
Of the approximately 5.7 million Israelis in 1996, about 4.6 million were
Jewish. While the non-Jewish minority grows at an average rate of 4% per year,
the Jewish population has increased by more than 15% over the last four years as
a result of massive immigration to Israel, primarily from the republics of the
former Soviet Union. Since 1989, nearly 710,000 such immigrants have arrived in
Israel, making this the largest wave of immigration since independence. In
addition, almost 20,000 members of the Ethiopian Jewish community have
immigrated to Israel, 14,000 of them during the dramatic May 1991 Operation
The three broad Jewish groupings are: the Ashkenazim, or Jews who came to
Israel mainly from Europe, North and South America, South Africa, and Australia;
the Sephardim, who trace their origin to Spain, Portugal, and North Africa; and
Eastern or Oriental Jews, who descend from ancient communities in Islamic lands.
Of the non-Jewish population, about 76% are Muslims, 15% are Christian, and
about 9% are Druze and others.
Education between ages five and 16 is free and compulsory. The school system is
organized into kindergartens, six-year primary schools, three-year junior
secondary schools, and three-year senior secondary schools, after which a
comprehensive examination is offered for university admissions. There are seven
university-level institutions in Israel.
With a population drawn from more than 100 countries on five continents, Israeli
society is rich in cultural diversity and artistic creativity. The arts are
actively encouraged and supported by the government. The Israeli Philharmonic
Orchestra performs throughout the country and frequently tours abroad. The
Jerusalem Symphony, the orchestra of the Israeli Broadcasting Authority, also
tours frequently as do other musical ensembles. Almost every municipality has
a chamber orchestra or ensemble, many boasting the talents of gifted performers
recently arrived from the countries of the former Soviet Union.
Folk dancing, which draws upon the cultural heritage of many immigrant groups,
is very popular. Israel also has several professional ballet and modern dance
companies. There is great public interest in the theater; the repertoire covers
the entire range of classical and contemporary drama in translation, as well as
plays by Israeli authors. Of the three major repertory companies, the most
famous, Habimah, was founded in 1917.
Active artist colonies thrive in Safed, Jaffa, and Ein Hod, and Israeli painters
and sculptors exhibit and sell their works worldwide. Haifa, Tel Aviv, and
Jerusalem have excellent art museums, and many towns and kibbutzim have smaller
high-quality museums. The Israel Museum in Jerusalem houses the Dead Sea
Scrolls along with an extensive collection of Jewish religious and folk art.
The Museum of the Diaspora is located on the campus of Tel Aviv University.
Israelis are avid newspaper readers. Israeli papers have an average daily
circulation of 600,000 copies. Major daily papers are in Hebrew; others are in
Arabic, English, French, Polish, Yiddish, Russian, Hungarian, and German.
The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 was preceded by more than 50 years
of efforts by Zionist leaders to establish a sovereign nation as a homeland for
Jews. The desire of Jews to return to what they consider their rightful
homeland was first expressed during the Babylonian exile and became a universal
Jewish theme after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. and the
dispersal that followed.
It was not until the founding of the Zionist movement by Theodore Herzl at the
end of the 19th century that practical steps were taken toward securing
international sanction for large-scale Jewish settlement in Palestine--then a
part of the Ottoman Empire.
The Balfour declaration in 1917 asserted the British Government's support for
the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This declaration was supported
by a number of other countries, including the United States, and became more
important following World War I, when the United Kingdom was assigned the
Palestine mandate by the League of Nations.
Jewish immigration grew slowly in the 1920s; it increased substantially in the
1930s, due to political turmoil in Europe and Nazi persecution, until
restrictions were imposed by the United Kingdom in 1939. After the end of World
War II, and the near-extermination of European Jewry by the Nazis, international
support for Jews seeking to settle in Palestine overcame British efforts to
International support for establishing a Jewish state led to the adoption in
November 1947 of the UN partition plan, which called for dividing the Mandate of
Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state and for establishing Jerusalem
separately as an international city under UN administration.
Violence between Arab and Jewish communities erupted almost immediately. Toward
the end of the British mandate, the Jews planned to declare a separate state, a
development the Arabs were determined to prevent. On May 14, 1948, the State of
Israel was proclaimed. The following day, armies from neighboring Arab nations
entered the former Mandate of Palestine to engage Israeli military forces.
In 1949, under UN auspices, four armistice agreements were negotiated and signed
at Rhodes, Greece, between Israel and its neighbors Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and
Syria. The 1948-49 war of independence resulted in a 50% increase in Israeli
territory, including western Jerusalem. No general peace settlement was
achieved at Rhodes, however, and violence along the borders continued for many
In October 1956, Israel invaded the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula at the
same time that operations by French and British forces against Egypt were taking
place in the Suez Canal area. Israeli forces withdrew in March 1957, after the
United Nations established the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) in the Gaza Strip and
Sinai. In 1966-67, terrorist incidents and retaliatory acts across the
armistice demarcation lines increased.
In May 1967, after tension had developed between Syria and Israel, Egyptian
President Nasser moved armaments and about 80,000 troops into the Sinai and
ordered a withdrawal of UNEF troops from the armistice line and Sharm El Sheikh.
Nasser then closed the Strait of Tiran to Israeli ships, blockading the Israeli
port of Eilat at the northern end of the Gulf of Aqaba. On May 30, Jordan and
Egypt signed a mutual defense treaty.
In response to these events, Israeli forces struck targets in Egypt, Jordan, and
Syria on June 5. After six days of fighting, by the time all parties had
accepted the cease-fire called for by UN Security Council Resolutions 235 and
236, Israel controlled the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights,
and the formerly Jordanian-controlled West Bank of the Jordan River, including
East Jerusalem. On November 22, 1967, the Security Council adopted Resolution
242, the "land for peace" formula, which called for the establishment of a just
and lasting peace based on Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967
in return for the end of all states of belligerency, respect for the sovereignty
of all states in the area, and the right to live in peace within secure,
In the 1969-70 war of attrition, Israeli planes made deep strikes into Egypt in
retaliation for repeated Egyptian shelling of Israeli positions along the Suez
Canal. In early 1969, fighting broke out between Egypt and Israel along the
Suez Canal. The United States helped end these hostilities in August 1970, but
subsequent U.S. efforts to negotiate an interim agreement to open the Suez Canal
and achieve disengagement of forces were unsuccessful.
On October 6, 1973--Yom Kippur (the Jewish Day of Atonement)--Syrian and
Egyptian forces attacked Israeli positions in Golan and along the Suez Canal.
Initially, Syria and Egypt made significant advances against Israeli forces.
However, Israel recovered on both fronts, pushed the Syrians back beyond the
1967 cease-fire lines, and recrossed the Suez Canal to take a salient on its
west bank, isolating Egyptian troops, who eventually surrendered.
The United States and the Soviet Union helped bring about a cease-fire between
the combatants. In the UN Security Council, the United States supported
Resolution 338, which reaffirmed Resolution 242 as the framework for peace and
called for peace negotiations between the parties.
The cease-fire did not end the sporadic clashes along the cease-fire lines nor
did it dissipate military tensions. The United States tried to help the parties
reach agreement on cease-fire stabilization and military disengagement. On
March 5, 1974, Israeli forces withdrew from the canal, and Egypt assumed
control. Syria and Israel signed a disengagement agreement on May 31, 1974, and
the UN Disengagement and Observer Force (UNDOF) was established as a
peacekeeping force in the Golan.
Further U.S. efforts resulted in an interim agreement between Egypt and Israel
in September 1975, which provided for another Israeli withdrawal in the Sinai, a
limitation of forces, and three observation stations staffed by U.S. civilians
in a UN-maintained buffer zone between Egyptian and Israeli forces.
In November 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat broke 30 years of hostility
with Israel by visiting Jerusalem at the invitation of Israeli Prime Minister
Menachem Begin. During a two-day visit, which included a speech before the
Knesset, the Egyptian leader created a new psychological climate in the Middle
East in which peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors seemed a realistic
possibility. Sadat recognized Israel's right to exist and established the basis
for direct negotiations between Egypt and Israel.
In September 1978, U.S. President Jimmy Carter invited President Sadat and Prime
Minister Begin to meet with him at Camp David, where they agreed on a framework
for peace between Israel and Egypt and a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
It set out broad principles to guide negotiations between Israel and the Arab
states. It also established guidelines for a West Bank-Gaza transitional regime
of full autonomy for the Palestinians residing in the occupied territories and
for a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
The treaty was signed on March 26, 1979, by Begin and Sadat, with President
Carter signing as witness. Under the treaty, Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt
in April 1982. In 1989, the Governments of Israel and Egypt concluded an
agreement that resolved the status of Taba, a resort area on the Gulf of Aqaba.
In the years following the 1948 war, Israel's border with Lebanon was quiet,
compared to its borders with other neighbors. After the expulsion of the
Palestinian fedayeen (fighters) from Jordan in 1970-- and their influx into
southern Lebanon, however, hostilities on Israel's northern border increased.
In March 1978, after a series of clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian
guerrillas in Lebanon, Israeli forces crossed into Lebanon. After passage of
Security Council Resolution 425, calling for Israeli withdrawal and the creation
of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon peace-keeping force (UNIFIL), Israel withdrew
In July 1981, after additional fighting between Israel and the Palestinians in
Lebanon, President Reagan's special envoy, Philip C. Habib, helped secure a
cease-fire between the parties. However, in June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon
to fight the forces of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
In August 1982, the PLO withdrew its forces from Lebanon. With U.S. assistance,
Israel and Lebanon reached an accord in May 1983 that set the stage to withdraw
Israeli forces from Lebanon. The instruments of ratification were never
exchanged, however, and in March 1984, under pressure from Syria, Lebanon
canceled the agreement. In June 1985, Israel withdrew most of its troops from
Lebanon, leaving a small residual Israeli force and an Israeli-supported militia
in southern Lebanon in a "security zone," which Israel considers a necessary
buffer against attacks on its northern territory.
By the late 1980s, the spread of non-conventional weaponry--including missile
technology--in the Middle East began to pose security problems for Israel from
further afield. This was evident during the Gulf crisis that began with Iraq's
August 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
When allied coalition forces moved to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait in January
1991, Iraq launched a series of missile attacks against Israel. Despite the
provocation, Israel refrained from entering the Gulf war directly, accepting
U.S. assistance to deflect continued Iraqi missile attacks.
The coalition's victory in the Gulf war opened new possibilities for regional
peace, and in October 1991, the Presidents of the United States and the Soviet
Union jointly convened an historic meeting in Madrid of Israeli, Lebanese,
Jordanian, Syrian, and Palestinian leaders which became the foundation for
ongoing bilateral and multilateral negotiations designed to bring lasting peace
and economic development to the region.
On September 13, 1993, Israel and the PLO signed a Declaration of Principles
(DOP) on the South Lawn of the White House. The declaration was a major
conceptual breakthrough achieved under the Madrid framework. It established an
ambitious set of objectives relating to a transfer of authority from Israel to
an interim Palestinian authority. The DOP established May 1999 as the date by
which a permanent status agreement for the West Bank and Gaza Strip would take
effect. Israel and the PLO subsequently signed the Gaza-Jericho Agreement on
May 4, 1994, and the Agreement on Preparatory Transfer of Powers and
Responsibilities on August 29, 1994, which began the process of transferring
authority from Israel to the Palestinians.
Prime Minister Rabin and PLO Chairman Arafat signed the historic Israeli-
Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on September
28, 1995, in Washington. The agreement, witnessed by the President on behalf of
the United States and by Russia, Egypt, Norway, and the European Union,
incorporates and supersedes the previous agreements and marked the conclusion of
the first stage of negotiations between Israel and the PLO.
The accord broadens Palestinian self-government by means of a popularly elected
legislative council. It provides for election and establishment of that body,
transfer of civil authority, Israeli redeployment from major population centers
in the West Bank, security arrangements, and cooperation in a variety of areas.
Negotiations on permanent status began on May 5, 1996 in Taba, Egypt. As agreed
in the 1993 DOP, those talks will address the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian
refugees, Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, final security
arrangements, borders, relations and cooperation with neighboring states, and
other issues of common interest.
Israel signed a non-belligerency agreement with Jordan (the Washington
Declaration) in Washington, DC, on July 25, 1994. Jordan and Israel signed a
historic peace treaty at a border post between the two countries on October 26,
1994, witnessed by President Clinton, accompanied by Secretary Christopher.
The assassination of Prime Minister Rabin by a right-wing Jewish radical on
November 4, 1995 climaxed an increasingly bitter national debate over where the
peace process was leading. Rabin's death left Israel profoundly shaken, ushered
in a period of national self-examination, and produced a new level of national
consensus favoring the peace process. In February 1996 Rabin's successor,
Shimon Peres, called early elections. Those elections, held May 29 and the
first featuring direct election of the prime minister, resulted in a narrow
election victory for Likud Party leader Binyamin Netanyahu and his center-right
National Coalition and the defeat of Peres and his left-of-center Labor/Meretz
Israel is a parliamentary democracy. Its governmental system is based on
several basic laws enacted by its unicameral parliament, the Knesset. The
president (chief of state) is elected by the Knesset for a five-year term.
The prime minister (head of government) exercises executive power and has in the
past been selected by the president as the party leader most able to form a
government. In the May 1996 elections, Israelis for the first time voted for
the prime minister directly, in accordance with recent legislation. The members
of the cabinet must be collectively approved by the Knesset.
The Knesset's 120 members are elected by secret ballot to four-year terms,
although the prime minister may decide to call for new elections before the end
of the four year term. Voting is for party lists rather than for individual
candidates, and the total number of seats assigned each party reflects that
party's percentage of the vote. Successful Knesset candidates are drawn from
the lists in order of party-assigned rank. Under the present electoral system,
all members of the Knesset are elected at large.
The independent judicial system includes secular and religious courts. The
courts' right of judicial review of the Knesset's legislation is limited.
Judicial interpretation is restricted to problems of execution of laws and
validity of subsidiary legislation. The highest court in Israel is the Supreme
Court, whose judges are approved by the president.
Israel is divided into six districts, administration of which is coordinated by
the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Defense is responsible for the
administration of the occupied territories.
Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister--Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud)
Foreign Minister--David Levy (Likud)
Ambassador to the United States--Eliahu Ben-Elissar
Ambassador to the United Nations--Gad Yaacobi
Israel maintains an embassy in the United States at 3514 International Drive NW,
Washington DC, 20008 (tel. 202-364-5500). There are also consulates general in
Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia,
and San Francisco.
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 its
constituent parties. From 1967-70, the coalition government included all of
Israel's parties except the communist party. After the 1977 election, the 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
As head of Likud, Menachem Begin became Prime Minister. The Likud retained
power in the succeeding election in June 1981, and Begin remained Prime
Minister. In the summer of 1983, Begin resigned and was succeeded by his
Foreign Minister, Yitzhak Shamir. After losing a Knesset vote of confidence
early in 1984, Shamir was forced to call for new elections, held in July of that
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.
During the first 25 months of unity government rule, Labor'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 Labor out by one seat but was unable to form a coalition with the
religious and right-wing parties. Likud and Labor 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
The national unity government fell in March 1990, in a vote of no-confidence
precipitated by disagreement over the government's response to U.S. Secretary of
State Baker's initiative in the peace process.
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 two years. In
the June 1992 national elections, the Labor Party reversed its electoral
fortunes, taking 44 seats. Labor Party leader Yitzhak Rabin formed a coalition
with Meretz (a group of three leftist parties) and Shas (an ultra-Orthodox
religious party). The coalition included the support of two Arab-majority
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 parties in the Knesset.
Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Jewish radical on November 4, 1995.
Peres, then Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, once again became Prime
Minister and immediately proceeded to carry forward the peace 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). Enjoying broad public support and anxious to secure his
own mandate, Peres called for early elections after just three months in office.
(They would have 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 peace process. Increased fighting in
southern Lebanon, which also brought Katyusha rocket attacks against northern
Israel, also raised tensions and weakened the government politically just a
month before the May 29 elections.
In those elections -- the first direct election of a prime minister in Israeli
history -- Likud leader Benyamin 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 peace process, but with
an emphasis on security first and reciprocity. His coalition included the Likud
party, allied with the Tsomet 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 b'Aliyah.
The latter is the first significant party formed expressly to represent the
interests of Israel's new immigrants.
Israel has a diversified modern economy with substantial government ownership
and a rapidly developing high-tech sector. Poor in natural resources, Israel
depends on imports of oil, coal, food, uncut diamonds, other production inputs,
and military equipment. Its GDP in 1995 reached $87 billion, or $15,700 per
person. The major industrial sectors include metal products, electronic and
biomedical equipment, processed foods, chemicals, and transport equipment.
Israel possesses a substantial service sector and is one of the world's centers
for diamond cutting and polishing. It is also a world leader in software
development and is a major tourist destination.
Israel's strong commitment to economic development and its talented work force
led to economic growth rates during the nation's first two decades that
frequently exceeded 10% annually. The years after the 1973 Yom Kippur War were
a lost decade economically, as growth stalled and inflation reached triple-digit
levels. The successful economic stabilization plan implemented in 1985 and the
subsequent introduction of market-oriented structural reforms reinvigorated the
economy and paved the way for its rapid growth in the 1990s.
Two developments have helped to transform Israel's economy since the beginning
of the decade. The first is the wave of Jewish immigration, predominantly from
the countries of the former U.S.S.R., that has brought some 700,000 new citizens
to Israel. These new immigrants, many of them highly educated, now constitute
some 12% of Israel's 5.7 million population. Their successful absorption into
Israeli society and its labor force forms a remarkable chapter in Israeli
history. The skills brought by the new immigrants and their added demand as
consumers have given the Israeli economy a strong upward push.
The second development benefitting the Israeli economy is the Mideast peace
process begun at the Madrid conference of October 1991, which led to the signing
of accords between Israel and the Palestinians and a peace treaty between Israel
and Jordan. The peace process has helped to erode Israel's economic isolation
from its neighbors and has begun a process of regional economic integration that
will help to stabilize the region. It has also opened up new markets to Israeli
exporters farther afield, such as in the rapidly growing countries of East Asia.
The peace process has stimulated an unprecedented inflow of foreign investment
in Israel, as companies that formerly shunned the Israeli market now see its
potential contribution to their global strategies. Israeli companies,
particularly in the high-tech area, have recently enjoyed considerable success
raising money on Wall Street and other world financial markets; Israel now
ranks second among foreign countries in the number of its companies listed on
U.S. stock exchanges.
The United States is Israel's largest trading partner; two-way trade totalled
some $11 billion in 1995. The principal U.S. exports to Israel include
computers, integrated circuits, aircraft parts and other defense equipment,
wheat, and automobiles. Israel's chief exports to the U.S. include diamonds,
jewelry, integrated circuits, printing machinery, and telecommunications
equipment. The two countries signed a free trade agreement in 1985 that
progressively eliminated tariffs on most goods traded between the two countries
over the following ten years. Some non-tariff barriers and tariffs on goods not
covered by the agreement remain, however. Israel also has a trade and
cooperation agreement in place with the European Union and is seeking to
conclude such agreements with a number of other countries, including Canada,
Turkey, and several countries in Eastern Europe.
In addition to seeking an end to hostilities with Arab forces, against which it
has fought five wars since 1948, Israel has given high priority to gaining wide
acceptance as a sovereign state with an important international role. Before
1967, it had established diplomatic relations with a majority of the world's
nations, except for the Arab states and most other Muslim countries. While the
Soviet Union and the communist states of Eastern Europe (except Romania) broke
diplomatic relations with Israel in the 1967 war, those relations were restored
Today, Israel has diplomatic relations with some 153 states. Following the
Madrid conference in 1991, and as a direct result of the peace process, Israel
established or renewed diplomatic relations with 62 countries. Most important
are its ties with Arab states. In addition to full diplomatic relations with
Egypt and Jordan, Israel now has ties of one kind or another with Morocco,
Tunisia, Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain.
On October 1, 1994, the Gulf States publicly announced their support for a
review of the Arab boycott, in effect abolishing the secondary and tertiary
boycotts against Israel. Israel has diplomatic relations with nine non-Arab
Muslim states and with 32 of the 43 Sub-Saharan states that are not members of
the Arab League. Israel established relations with China and India in 1992.
Israel's ground, air, and naval forces, known as the Israel Defense Force (IDF),
fall under the command of a single general staff. Conscription is universal for
Jewish men and women over the age of 18, although exemptions may be made on
religious grounds. Druze, members of a small Islamic sect living in Israel's
mountains, also serve in the IDF. Israeli Arabs, with few exceptions, do not
serve. During 1950-66, Israel spent an average of 9% of GDP on defense. Real
defense expenditures increased dramatically after both the 1967 and 1973 wars.
In 1995, the military budget reached 10% of GDP and represented about 20.4% of
the total 1995 budget.
In 1983, the United States and Israel established the Joint Political Military
Group, which includes joint military planning and combined exercises. The
United States and Israel have collaborated on military research and weapons
development and have signed an agreement allowing Israel to participate in
Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) research.
Commitment to Israel's security and well-being has been a cornerstone of U.S.
policy in the Middle East since Israel's creation in 1948, in which the United
States played a key supporting role. Israel and the United States are bound
closely by historic and cultural ties as well as by mutual interests. Continuing
U.S. economic and security assistance to Israel acknowledges these ties and
signals U.S. commitment. The broad issues of Arab-Israeli peace have been a
major focus in the U.S.-Israeli relationship. U.S. efforts to reach a Middle
East peace settlement are based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338
and, under the Clinton Administration have been based on the premise that as
Israel takes calculated risks for peace, it is the role of the United States to
help minimize those risks.
UNSC resolutions provided the basis for cease-fire and disengagement agreements
concerning the Sinai and the Golan Heights between Israel, Egypt, and Syria and
for promoting the Camp David accords and the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty.
They were also the foundation for President Reagan's September 1982 peace
initiative and Secretary Shultz's January 1988 initiative that aimed at
stimulating conditions to bring Jordan and representative Palestinians into the
Middle East peace process.
The landmark October 1991 Madrid conference also recognized the importance of
Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 in resolving regional disputes, and
brought together for the first time Israel, the Palestinians, and the
neighboring Arab countries, launching a series of direct bilateral and
multilateral negotiations. These talks were designed to finally resolve
outstanding security, border, and other issues between the parties while
providing a basis for mutual cooperation on issues of general concern, including
the status of refugees, arms control and regional security, water and
environmental concerns, and economic development.
On a bilateral level, relations between the United States and Israel have been
strengthened in recent years by the establishment of cooperative institutions in
many fields. Bilateral foundations in the fields of science and technology
include the Binational Science Foundation and the Binational Agricultural
Research and Development Foundation. The U.S.-Israeli Education Foundation
sponsors educational and cultural programs.
In addition, the Joint Economic Development Group maintains a high-level
dialogue on economic issues. In early 1993, the United States and Israel agreed
to establish a joint Science and Technology Commission. In 1983, the United
States and Israel established the Joint Political Military Group, which includes
joint military planning and combined exercises. In 1996, reflecting heightened
concern about terrorism, the United States and Israel established a Joint
Counterterrorism Group designed to enhance cooperation in fighting terrorism.
Principal U.S. Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--Richard Roth
Political Affairs--Richard Erdman
Economic Affairs--Tain Tompkins
Administration--J. Robert Manzanares
Consular Affairs--Marsha von Duerckheim
Public Affairs (USIS)--David P. Good
Commercial Affairs--Edgar Fulton
Science Attache--David W. Mulenex
Defense Attache--Col. John McNabb, USAF
The U.S. embassy in Israel is located at 71 Hayarkon Street, Tel Aviv (tel. 03-
U.S. Consulate General
Consul General--Edward G. Abington, Jr.
Deputy Principal Officer--Jacob Walles
Chief, Consular Section--Kathleen Riley
The U.S. consulate general in Jerusalem has offices at 18 Agron Road (tel. 02-
625-3288) and on Nablus Road (tel. 02-628-2231). The consulate general in
Jerusalem is an independent U.S. mission, established in 1928, whose members are
not accredited to a foreign government.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides Travel
Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are issued when the
State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country.
Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on
immigration practices, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of
instability, crime and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of
the U.S. posts in the subject country. They can be obtained by telephone at
(202) 647-5225 or by fax at (202) 647-3000. To access the Consular Affairs
Bulletin Board by computer, dial (202) 647-9225, via a modem with standard
settings. Bureau of Consular Affairs' publications on obtaining passports and
planning a safe trip abroad are available from the Superintendent of Documents,
U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained from
the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at (404) 332-4559
gives the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or
requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and
countries. A booklet entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS
publication number CDC-95-8280, price $14.00) is available from the U.S.
Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and customs
regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to travelers also may
be obtained before your departure from a country's embassy and/or consulates in
the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal Government Officials" listing in this
Upon their arrival in a country, U.S. citizens are encouraged to register at the
U.S. embassy (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this
publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). Available by modem, the CABB provides
Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and helpful information for
travelers. Access at (202) 647-9225 is free of charge to anyone with a personal
computer, modem, telecommunications software, and a telephone line.
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, DOSFAN
provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information.
Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch, the official weekly
magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; directories of key
officers of foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at
http://www.state.gov; this site has a link to the DOSFAN Gopher Research
Collection, which also is accessible at gopher://gopher.state.gov or
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a quarterly basis by the
U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the Department of State
Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of official foreign policy
information from 1990 to the present. Priced at $80 ($100 foreign), one-year
subscriptions include four discs (MSDOS and Macintosh compatible) and are
available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
P.O. Box 37194, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax
Federal Bulletin Board (BBS). A broad range of foreign policy information also
is carried on the BBS, operated by the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO). By
modem, dial (202) 512-1387. For general BBS information, call (202) 512-1530.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce,
the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information, including Country
Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-
ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.
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