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Israel and Palestinian Authority, Government

Israel is a multiparty parliamentary republic with ultimate authority vested by the people in the legislature, or Knesset. There is no written constitution, but a number of basic laws passed by the parliament over the decades determine government operations and activities. Israel has a unitary, or nonfederalist, system of government; the central government in Jerusalem runs most government functions.

Although Israel achieved independence in 1948, its political system derives from the period of British mandate over Palestine (1922-1948). Under the mandate, awarded by the League of Nations, Britain temporarily governed the area on behalf of its Jewish and Arab inhabitants. The mandate established the Jewish Agency for Palestine, a body that acted as the international diplomatic representative of the Jewish community in Palestine (Yishuv). During the mandate period the Yishuv established institutions for self-government, including an assembly that used a system of proportional representation to distribute the assemblyís seats after elections. The assembly met annually, electing a council that worked with the Jewish Agency to administer Yishuv affairs between assembly sessions. After the United Nations (UN) adopted a plan to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states in 1947, a provisional government consisting of a legislature, a cabinet, and a president was chosen from among the members of the council and the Jewish Agency. This provisional government functioned from the day of independence (May 14, 1948) until February 14, 1949, at which time its authority was transferred to the first Knesset.

The Knessetís first legislative act was to enact a law, often referred to as the Small Constitution, adopting for the new government many of the administrative structures and procedures created during the mandate. Knesset members discussed at length the possibility of drafting a constitution. Many felt that the constantly changing social conditions caused by mass immigration after independence made necessary a delay in drafting a permanent document. Others expressed concern over the relationship between state and religion and how to incorporate the precepts and ideals of Judaism into the proposed document. After more than a year of discussion, the Knesset decided to delay adoption of a formal and comprehensive document. Although Israel remains without a written constitution, over the years the Knesset has passed many laws, known as Basic Laws, defining governmental structure and policy. The Basic Laws are intended to form portions of a comprehensive document in the future.

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