A snapshot of Israel`s March 17 election

AFP| Last Updated: Mar 12, 2015, 14:12 PM IST

The state of Israel, which goes to the polls on Tuesday, is one of the world`s youngest countries, carved out as a Jewish homeland after World War II.

It is also one of the states most contested by its neighbours, with which it has fought several wars.

Neither its borders nor the status of its capital are universally recognised.

During the 1967 Six Day War, Israel seized east Jerusalem from Jordan and formally annexed it. It seized the Golan Heights from Syria and annexed the area in 1981.

Although Israel claims Jerusalem as its capital, its position is not recognised by the international community and almost all foreign embassies remain in Tel Aviv.

Israel`s destiny is also tied up with the Palestinian territories it occupied after the 1967 war: the West Bank, which it took from Jordan, and the Gaza Strip which used to be administered by Egypt. It withdrew its forces and settlers from Gaza in 2005, but continues to maintain troops and settlers in much of the West Bank.
GEOGRAPHY: Not counting annexed or occupied territories, Israel covers 21,121 square kilometres (8,155 square miles). It lies on the Mediterranean Sea and borders Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan and the West Bank to the east and Egypt and the Gaza Strip to the south.
POPULATION: 8.3 million, of whom around 74.9 percent are Jews and 20.7 percent Arabs.

Established as a homeland for the Jews after the Nazi Holocaust, Israel is a country of immigrants, with some 3.2 million people settling there since 1948.

The country offers citizenship to Jewish people everywhere.
LANGUAGES: Hebrew and Arabic.
HISTORY: Israel`s main city, Jerusalem, has long been a holy place for Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. In the 16th century, the region became part of the Ottoman Empire.

When the empire collapsed during World War I the area then known as Palestine was taken over by British troops and in 1920 it was formally placed under a British mandate.

In 1917 Britain published the Balfour Declaration, calling for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."

In 1947, the United Nations voted to divide the land into Jewish and Arab states, in a move accepted by the Jews but rejected by the Arabs.

After British mandatory troops pulled out in May 1948, Israel declared its independence, sparking an eight-month war with Arab states.

Israel subsequently fought two other major wars with Arab states in the region -- in 1967 and 1973. From 1967, the United States became Israel`s main ally, which it remains to this day.

The Jewish state has also fought several wars in Lebanon, most recently with the Shiite Hezbollah movement in 2006, and has had recurring conflicts with the Palestinians, the latest of which was a 50-day war in Gaza in July and August of 2014.

GOVERNMENT: Israel is a parliamentary democracy with no formal constitution. The Knesset, or parliament, has 120 members. The president, currently Reuven Rivlin, has mainly ceremonial functions.

ECONOMY: Israel has few raw materials but has a strong farming sector and a thriving high-tech industry. The recent discovery of major offshore gas reserves looks set to put the country on the road to energy independence and even turn it into an exporter.

After expanding by 3.2 percent in 2013, growth slowed in 2014 partly as a result of the Gaza war, although the economy rebounded faster than expected, raising growth for the entire year to 2.9 percent. 

Unemployment fell to 5.9 percent in 2014, down from 6.2 percent a year earlier.

MILITARY: 176,500 active personnel and 465,000 reservists, according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS, 2015).

Israel has by far the most powerful military in the Middle East. It is widely assumed to possess nuclear weapons, although it has never formally admitted it.