The Facts: (Thanks to the BBC for this profile)
* Full name: State of Israel
* Population: 7 million (UN, 2008)
* Seat of government: Jerusalem, though most foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv
* Area: Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics cites 22,072 sq km (8,522 sq miles), including Jerusalem and Golan
* Major languages: Hebrew, Arabic
* Major religions: Judaism, Islam
* Life expectancy: 79 years (men), 83 years (women) (UN)
* Monetary unit: 1 new Israeli shekel (NIS) = 100 new agorot
* Main exports: Computer software, military equipment, chemicals, agricultural products
* GNI per capita (Israel only): US $21,900 (World Bank, 2007)
* Population: 4 million (UN, 2007)
* Intended seat of government: East Jerusalem
* Area: Palestinian Ministry of Information cites 5,970 sq km (2,305 sq miles) for West Bank territories and 365 sq km (141 sq miles) for Gaza
* Major language: Arabic
* Major religion: Islam
* Life expectancy: 72 years (men), 75 years (women) (UN)
* Monetary unit: 1 Jordan dinar = 1,000 fils, 1 new Israeli shekel (NIS) = 100 new agorot
* Main exports: Citrus
* GNI per capita: US $1,230 (estimated, World Bank, 2007)
Israel in the News:
The division of the former British mandate of Palestine and the creation of the state of Israel in the years after the end of World War II have been at the heart of Middle Eastern conflicts for the past half century.
The creation of Israel was the culmination of the Zionist movement, whose aim was a homeland for Jews scattered all over the world following the Diaspora. After the Nazi Holocaust, pressure grew for the international recognition of a Jewish state, and in 1948 Israel came into being.
Much of the history of the region since that time has been one of conflict between Israel on one side and Palestinians, represented by the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and Israel’s Arab neighbours, on the other. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced, and several wars were fought involving Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Palestinians in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, have lived under Israeli occupation since 1967. The settlements that Israel has built in the West Bank are home to around 400,000 people and are deemed to be illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.
Israel evacuated its settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and withdrew its forces, ending almost four decades of military occupation. However, after the militant Islamic group Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007, Israel intensified its economic blockade of the Strip.
In 1979 Egypt and Israel signed a peace agreement, but it wasn’t until the early 1990s, after years of an uprising known as the intifada , that a peace process began with the Palestinians. Despite the handover of Gaza and parts of the West Bank to Palestinian control, a “final status” agreement has yet to be reached.
The main stumbling blocks include the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees and Jewish settlements.
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