Israel: Background and U.S. Relations in Brief

Updated March 9, 2020 (R44245)
Jump to Main Text of Report





The following matters are of particular significance to U.S.-Israel relations.

Domestic issues. Will Netanyahu remain prime minister? On March 2, 2020, Israel held its third election in the past year—a development unprecedented in the country's history. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud party won the most votes, despite criminal indictments against Netanyahu for corruption. However, the bloc of parties that are his traditional coalition allies fell three votes short of a Knesset majority. Netanyahu's main political rival Benny Gantz, of the Kahol Lavan party, may have enough support from parties opposing Netanyahu to have the first chance to form a government. This support could lead to a bill preventing Netanyahu from forming a government—due to the indictments he faces—though the legislation might not take effect until another election takes place. Ending Israel's political stalemate could depend on whether Avigdor Lieberman of the right-of-center, pro-secular Yisrael Beitenu party is willing to join a Gantz-led government that receives outside support from the Arab-led Joint List.

If Netanyahu forms the next government, he may pursue initiatives that could reduce the independence of Israel's judiciary and lead to West Bank annexation. It is unclear how a Likud-Kahol Lavan unity government or a government without Netanyahu might approach these issues. It is also unclear whether, under Israeli law, Netanyahu could annex West Bank territory while acting in a caretaker capacity.

Israeli-Palestinian issues and the Trump peace plan. President Trump has expressed interest in helping resolve the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His policies, however, have largely sided with Israeli positions, thus alienating Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. On January 28, 2020, the President released a long-promised peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians. The plan appears to favor Israeli positions on core issues of dispute such as borders and settlements, the status of Jerusalem and its holy sites, security, and Palestinian refugees. The Palestinians would face significant domestic difficulties in taking the steps that the plan proposes for them to qualify for statehood.

Prospects for negotiations based on the U.S. plan appear relatively dim given strong Palestinian opposition and Netanyahu's announced intention to annex parts of the West Bank. U.S. officials have said that any U.S. approval for Israeli annexation of West Bank areas would come after a U.S.-Israel committee can pinpoint areas earmarked for eventual Israeli sovereignty. West Bank annexation could provoke international opposition and affect regional stability, including in neighboring Jordan. Arab states could influence developments on Israeli-Palestinian issues, although their positions have varied by country and over time.

Israeli clashes with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip periodically escalate, but Israel and the Sunni Islamist group Hamas (a U.S.-designated terrorist organization) have continued indirect talks toward a long-term cease-fire.

Israel's ability to address threats. Israel relies on a number of strengths—including regional military superiority—to manage potential threats to its security, including evolving asymmetric threats. A 10-year bilateral military aid memorandum of understanding (MOU)—signed in 2016—commits the United States to provide Israel $3.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing annually from FY2019 to FY2028, along with additional amounts from Defense Department accounts for missile defense. All of these amounts remain subject to congressional appropriations.

Iran and other regional issues. Israeli officials seek to counter Iranian regional influence and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Prime Minister Netanyahu strongly supported President Trump's withdrawal of the United States from the 2015 international agreement that constrained Iran's nuclear activities. Facing intensified U.S. sanctions, Iran has reduced its compliance with the 2015 agreement. U.S.-Iran tensions have led to greater regional uncertainty, with implications for Israel. Israel has reportedly conducted a number of military operations in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon against Iran and its allies due to concerns about Iran's efforts to establish a permanent presence in these areas and to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of Lebanese Hezbollah's missile arsenal.

Introduction: Major Issues for U.S.-Israel Relations

Israel has forged close bilateral cooperation with the United States in many areas; issues with significant implications include the following.

For background information and analysis on these and other topics, including aid, arms sales, and missile defense cooperation, see CRS Report RL33476, Israel: Background and U.S. Relations, by Jim Zanotti; and CRS Report RL33222, U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel, by Jeremy M. Sharp.

Figure 1. Israel: Map and Basic Facts

Sources: Graphic created by CRS. Map boundaries and information generated by Hannah Fischer using Department of State Boundaries (2011); Esri (2013); the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency GeoNames Database (2015); DeLorme (2014). Fact information from CIA, The World Factbook; Economist Intelligence Unit; IMF World Economic Outlook Database. All numbers are estimates as of 2019 unless specified.

Notes: According to the U.S. executive branch: (1) The West Bank is Israeli occupied with current status subject to the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement; permanent status to be determined through further negotiation. (2) The status of the Gaza Strip is a final status issue to be resolved through negotiations. (3) The United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 2017 without taking a position on the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty. (4) Boundary representation is not necessarily authoritative. Additionally, the United States recognized the Golan Heights as part of Israel in 2019; however, U.N. Security Council Resolution 497, adopted on December 17, 1981, held that the area of the Golan Heights controlled by Israel's military is occupied territory belonging to Syria. The current U.S. executive branch map of Israel is available at

Domestic Issues: Will Netanyahu Remain Prime Minister?

On March 2, 2020, Israel held its third election in the past year because neither of the previous two elections (in April and September 2019) resulted in the formation of a new government. Before this political stalemate, no Israeli election had failed to garner Knesset majority support for a new government. According to unofficial results, the Likud party, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, won the most Knesset seats in the March 2 election (see Appendix A), despite criminal indictments against Netanyahu for corruption (see Appendix B). However, the bloc of right-of-center and ultra-Orthodox parties that are Netanyahu's traditional political allies are three seats short of a majority, partly due to a strong showing by the Arab-led Joint List, which was reportedly fueled by high turnout from Israel's Arab citizens and some Jewish votes.1 Netanyahu's criminal trial is scheduled to begin on March 17, though he has requested a 45-day postponement.2

The person who will be assigned in mid-March by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to form a government will have an initial four weeks to build a coalition, followed by a possible two-week extension, and possibly opportunities for someone else if the first person is unsuccessful.3 If no one can garner majority support for a new government, another election would presumably take place later in 2020. Netanyahu—or, if he leaves office, a successor—will serve as prime minister in a caretaker or interim capacity until someone establishes a majority-backed coalition.4

Despite Likud's three-seat electoral advantage over Benny Gantz and his Kahol Lavan party (see Appendix A), Gantz may have enough support from the other parties that oppose Netanyahu (Joint List, Labor-Gesher-Meretz, and Yisrael Beitenu) to receive President Rivlin's first mandate to form a government.5 If that happens, a Knesset majority could pass a bill that would prevent Netanyahu—due to the indictments he faces—from forming a government. It is unclear whether the bill, if enacted, would affect this government formation process or only apply if another election takes place.6 Reports have surfaced that Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beitenu—a right-of-center, pro-secular party—may support the proposed bill and recommend that Gantz form the next government.7 However, Lieberman has been unwilling to date to join either a Gantz-led government supported by the Arab-led Joint List, or a Netanyahu-led government with ultra-Orthodox parties.8 Unless that changes, Israel's yearlong political stalemate may continue, with a number of possibilities if the parties go to a fourth election.9

Possible outcomes leading to a majority-backed coalition from the March election include:

If Netanyahu forms the next government, he may pursue initiatives that could reduce the independence of Israel's judiciary and lead to West Bank annexation.12 It is unclear how a unity government or a government without Netanyahu might approach these issues, and whether Netanyahu could annex West Bank territory under Israeli law while acting in a caretaker capacity.13 Netanyahu has promised to annex significant territory in the West Bank in conjunction with the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan released by President Trump on January 28, 2020.14

Israeli-Palestinian Issues Under the Trump Administration15

President Trump has expressed interest in helping resolve the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, his policies have largely favored Israeli positions, thus alienating Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas.

Selected U.S. Actions Impacting Israeli-Palestinian Issues

December 2017

President Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital, prompting the PLO/PA to cut off high-level diplomatic relations with the United States

May 2018

U.S. embassy opens in Jerusalem

August 2018

Administration ends contributions to U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)

September 2018

Administration reprograms FY2017 economic aid for the West Bank and Gaza to other locations; announces closure of PLO office in Washington, DC

January 2019

As a result of the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-253), the Administration ends all bilateral U.S. aid to the Palestinians

March 2019

The U.S. consulate general in Jerusalem—previously an independent diplomatic mission to the Palestinians—is subsumed under the authority of the U.S. embassy to Israel; President Trump recognizes Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights

June 2019

At a meeting in Bahrain, U.S. officials roll out $50 billion economic framework for Palestinians in the region tied to the forthcoming peace plan; PLO/PA officials reject the idea of economic incentives influencing their positions on core political demands

November 2019

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo says that the Administration disagrees with a 1978 State Department legal opinion stating that Israeli West Bank settlements are inconsistent with international law

January 2020

President Trump releases peace plan

On January 28, President Trump released a long-promised "Peace to Prosperity" plan for Israel and the Palestinians,16 after obtaining expressions of support from both Netanyahu and Gantz. Prospects for holding negotiations seem dim given concerted opposition from Abbas and other Palestinian leaders, and Netanyahu's announced intention to annex parts of the West Bank. Members of Congress have had mixed reactions to the plan.17

Key Points of the U.S. Plan

The plan suggests the following key outcomes as the basis for future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations:18

Settlement-Related Announcements After the Plan's Release

In February, Netanyahu and his government announced intentions to move forward with plans or construction for Jewish settlements in areas of East Jerusalem (where some refer to settlements as neighborhoods) and the West Bank—including an area known as E-1—that could significantly obstruct territorial contiguity between Palestinian population centers.19

Possible Israeli West Bank Annexation

Shortly after the release of the U.S. plan, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced an intention to have the Israeli government annex West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley.29 His initial proposal to act immediately—supported by some comments from U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman30—changed in light of January 30 remarks by White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner. Kushner said that technical discussions involving a U.S.-Israel committee to pinpoint areas earmarked for eventual Israeli sovereignty (see Figure C-1) could begin immediately, but that finalizing them would take "a couple of months." Kushner also said that an Israeli government would need to be in place "in order to move forward" with annexation.31

In the wake of Kushner's statements, Netanyahu claimed that he would only seek government approval for annexation after the March 2 election.32 Some observers have speculated that Kushner wants to give the plan an opportunity to garner international support before annexation takes place.33 The U.S.-Israel mapping committee began meeting in February.34 On March 5, one source reported that Kushner told Members of Congress that the United States would be ready to support Israeli annexation within a matter of months if the Palestinians are unwilling to negotiate with Israel on the basis of the U.S. plan.35

Annexation could affect the prospects of reaching a negotiated two-state solution, based on either the U.S. plan or other starting points. Two former U.S. officials have written that "if Israeli annexation is front-loaded and proceeds in the coming months, any Palestinian counter-offer would be pre-empted."36

Annexation Under Israeli Law

Since Israel's founding in 1948, it has effectively annexed two territories: East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, both of which Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Shortly after the war, the Israeli government expanded Jerusalem's municipal boundaries to include all of the previously Jordanian-held East Jerusalem and some surrounding West Bank territory, and proclaimed the municipality to be Israel's capital. The Knesset passed a Basic Law in July 1980 stating that the jurisdiction of Jerusalem runs throughout the expanded municipal boundaries. In December 1981, the Knesset passed a law stating that the "Law, jurisdiction and administration of the state [of Israel] shall apply to the Golan Heights."37 The U.N. Security Council, in Resolutions 478 (1980) and 497 (1981), respectively, affirmed that both Knesset laws were violations of international law.

According to one Israeli legal scholar, under domestic law Israel can apply its law to new territory via governmental decree (if the territory was previously part of the British Mandate of Palestine) or Knesset legislation.38 Some norms of Israeli law already apply to West Bank settlements, "either through application of personal jurisdiction over the settlers, or through military decrees that incorporated Israeli law into the law applicable to all or parts of the West Bank."39

According to one article citing various Israeli legal experts, Israel could take a range of approaches to annexation or applying its law to West Bank areas.40 The full application of Israeli law to settlements could necessitate significant adaptation in matters such as property registry and land-use planning. Also, if Israel applies its civilian law to the Jordan Valley or other West Bank areas with Palestinian populations currently subject to Jordanian and military law, the legal transition could potentially impact individual property rights and business licenses.41 Since 2016, various Knesset members have reportedly proposed bills that would apply Israeli law, jurisdiction, administration, and formal sovereignty in specified West Bank areas.42

Annexation may be contrary to international law,43 including various U.N. Security Council resolutions and existing Israeli-Palestinian agreements (the Oslo Accords of the 1990s) that provide for resolving the status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip via negotiations.44 U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted in December 2016 with the United States (under the Obama Administration) abstaining, stated that settlements established by Israel in "Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem," constitute "a flagrant violation under international law" and a "major obstacle" to a two-state solution and a "just, lasting and comprehensive peace." In December 2019, the House (by a vote of 226-188, with two voting present) passed H.Res. 326, which called for any future U.S. peace proposal to expressly endorse a two-state solution and discouraged steps such as "unilateral annexation of territory or efforts to achieve Palestinian statehood status" outside negotiations.

Regional and International Reactions to the U.S. Plan

The U.S. plan has elicited various regional and international reactions. While some key actors have voiced hope that the plan's release can lead to the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks, others have expressed caution or criticism about the plan.

After a meeting of the foreign ministers of the League of Arab States on February 1, the Arab League issued a communique saying that it would not cooperate with the United States to implement the plan and that Israel should not forcibly carry it out.45 It stated its view that the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 remains the proper basis for a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian peace.46 In the days before the Arab League meeting, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates expressed qualified openness to supporting a negotiating process based on the plan.47 Some observers surmise that some key Arab states' shared interests with Israel on Iran and other matters may lead them to be less insistent than in the past on Israel meeting Palestinian demands.48

The impact of the plan or possible Israeli annexation on neighboring Jordan is an important issue.49 Israeli security officials regard Jordan, with which Israel has a peace treaty, as a key regional buffer for Israel. Jordan also hosts key U.S. military assets. While Jordan's monarchy maintains discreet security cooperation with Israel, much of its population—a majority of which is of Palestinian origin—holds negative views about Israel-Jordan relations,50 which have become strained over the past year.51 Additionally, Palestinians might look to Jordan to take greater responsibility for them if their own national aspirations remain unfulfilled.52 After the plan's release, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi warned against the "dangerous consequences of unilateral Israeli measures, such as the annexation of Palestinian lands, the building and expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian lands and encroachments on the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, that aim at imposing new realities on the ground."53

Other international reactions have encouraged the idea of resuming Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but raised concerns about parts of the U.S. plan or possible Israeli annexation. For example, Josep Borrell, the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs, said on February 4 that the plan departs from internationally agreed parameters for a two-state solution and that Israeli annexation steps "could not pass unchallenged."54 Additionally, annexation could come under investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC),55 given that the ICC prosecutor has announced her intention to investigate possible war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza if a pre-trial chamber decides that the ICC has jurisdiction there.56

Gaza and Its Challenges

The Gaza Strip—controlled by the Sunni Islamist group Hamas (a U.S.-designated terrorist organization)—faces difficult and complicated political, economic, and humanitarian conditions.57 Palestinian militants in Gaza regularly clash with Israel's military as it patrols Gaza's frontiers with Israel, and the clashes periodically escalate toward larger conflict. Hamas and Israel are reportedly working through Egypt and Qatar in efforts to establish a long-term cease-fire around Gaza that could ease Israel-Egypt access restrictions for people and goods.

How Israel Addresses Threats

Israel relies on a number of strengths to manage potential threats to its security and existence. These strengths include robust military and homeland security capabilities, as well as close cooperation with the United States.

Military Superiority and Homeland Security Measures

Israel maintains military superiority relative to neighboring states and the Palestinians. Shifts in regional order and evolving asymmetric threats have led Israel to update its efforts to project military strength, deter attack, and defend its population and borders. Israel appears to have reduced some unconventional threats via missile defense systems, reported cyber defense and warfare capabilities, and other heightened security measures.

Israel has a robust homeland security system featuring sophisticated early warning practices and thorough border and airport security controls; most of the country's buildings have reinforced rooms or shelters engineered to withstand explosions. Israel also has partially constructed a national border fence network of steel barricades (accompanied at various points by watchtowers, patrol roads, intelligence centers, and military brigades) designed to minimize militant infiltration, illegal immigration, and smuggling from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Gaza Strip.58 Additionally, Israeli authorities have built a separation barrier in and around parts of the West Bank.59

U.S. Cooperation

Israeli officials closely consult with U.S. counterparts in an effort to influence U.S. decision-making on key regional issues, and U.S. law requires the executive branch to take certain actions to preserve Israel's "qualitative military edge," or QME.60 Additionally, a 10-year bilateral military aid memorandum of understanding (MOU)—signed in 2016—commits the United States to provide Israel $3.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing and to spend $500 million annually on joint missile defense programs from FY2019 to FY2028, subject to congressional appropriations. The United States and Israel do not have a mutual defense treaty or agreement that provides formal U.S. security guarantees,61 though some discussions about the possibility of a treaty have apparently taken place since September 2019.62

Iran and the Region

Israeli officials cite Iran as a primary concern to Israeli officials, largely because of (1) antipathy toward Israel expressed by Iran's revolutionary regime, (2) Iran's broad regional influence (especially in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon),63 and (3) Iran's nuclear and missile programs and advanced conventional weapons capabilities. Israel and Arab Gulf states have cultivated closer relations with one another in efforts to counter Iran.

Iranian Nuclear Issue and Regional Tensions

Prime Minister Netanyahu has sought to influence U.S. decisions on the international agreement on Iran's nuclear program (known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA). He opposed the JCPOA when it was negotiated by the Obama Administration, and welcomed President Trump's May 2018 withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA and accompanying reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran's core economic sectors. Facing the intensified U.S. sanctions, Iran has reduced its compliance with the 2015 agreement.

U.S.-Iran tensions since the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA have led to greater regional uncertainty, with implications for Israel.64 Some Israelis have voiced worries about how Iran's apparent ability to penetrate Saudi air defenses and target Saudi oil facilities could transfer to efforts in targeting Israel.65

Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon


Lebanese Hezbollah is Iran's closest and most powerful non-state ally in the region. Hezbollah's forces and Israel's military have sporadically clashed near the Lebanese border for decades—with the antagonism at times contained in the border area, and at times escalating into broader conflict.66 Speculation persists about the potential for wider conflict and its regional implications.67 Israeli officials have sought to draw attention to Hezbollah's buildup of mostly Iran-supplied weapons—including reported upgrades to the range, precision, and power of its projectiles—and its alleged use of Lebanese civilian areas as strongholds.68

Ongoing tension between Israel and Iran raises questions about the potential for Israel-Hezbollah conflict. Various sources have referenced possible Iran-backed Hezbollah initiatives to build precision-weapons factories in Lebanon.69 In late 2018 and early 2019, Israel's military undertook an effort—dubbed "Operation Northern Shield"—to seal six Hezbollah attack tunnels to prevent them from crossing into Israel.70 In August 2019, Israel may have conducted airstrikes targeting Hezbollah personnel and advanced drone and missile technology in Syria and Lebanon.71 Hezbollah appeared to respond to Israel in early September with cross-border fire from Lebanon targeting an Israeli military unit,72 amid reports that Hezbollah sought to retaliate but avoid escalation toward war.73

Syria and Iraq: Reported Israeli Airstrikes Against Iran-Backed Forces

Israel has reportedly undertaken airstrikes in conflict-plagued Syria and Iraq based on concerns that Iran and its allies could pose threats to Israeli security from there. Iran's westward expansion of influence into Iraq and Syria over the past two decades has provided it with more ways to supply and support Hezbollah, apparently leading Israel to increasingly broaden its regional theater of military action.74 The U.S. base at At Tanf in southern Syria reportedly serves as an impediment to Iranian efforts to create a land route for weapons from Iran to Lebanon.75 Russia, its airspace deconfliction mechanism with Israel, and some advanced air defense systems that it has deployed or transferred to Syria also influence the various actors involved.76

Since 2018, Israeli and Iranian forces have repeatedly targeted one another in Syria or around the Syria-Israel border. After Iran helped Syria's government regain control of much of the country, Israeli leaders began pledging to prevent Iran from constructing and operating bases or advanced weapons manufacturing facilities in Syria.77

In Iraq, reports suggest that in the summer of 2019, Israel conducted airstrikes against weapons depots or convoys that were connected with Iran-allied Shiite militias. A December 2019 media report citing U.S. officials claimed that Iran had built up a hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq that could pose a threat to U.S. regional partners, including Israel.78 Perhaps owing to sensitivities involving U.S. forces in Iraq, Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett suggested in February 2020 that Israel would avoid further direct involvement there—leaving any efforts to counter Iran-backed forces in Iraq to the United States.79

Appendix A. Israeli Political Parties in the Next Knesset and Their Leaders



Likud (Consolidation) – 36 Knesset seats
Israel's historical repository of right-of-center nationalist ideology; skeptical of territorial compromise; has also championed free-market policies.

Leader: Binyamin Netanyahu
Born in 1949, Netanyahu has served as prime minister since 2009 and also was prime minister from 1996 to 1999. Netanyahu served in an elite special forces unit (Sayeret Matkal), and received his higher education at MIT. Throughout a career in politics and diplomacy, he has been renowned both for his skepticism regarding the exchange of land for peace with the Palestinians and his desire to counter Iran's nuclear program and regional influence. He is generally regarded as both a consummate political dealmaker and a security-minded nationalist. However, he has negotiated with the Palestinians, and many observers discern cautiousness in Netanyahu's decisions regarding the nature and scale of military operations.


Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) – 7 seats
Pro-secular, right-of-center nationalist party with base of support among Russian speakers from the former Soviet Union.

Leader: Avigdor Lieberman
Born in 1958, Lieberman served as Israel's defense minister until his resignation in November 2018. He served as Israel's foreign minister for most of the period from 2009 to May 2015 and is generally viewed as an ardent nationalist and canny political actor with prime ministerial aspirations. Lieberman was born in the Soviet Union (in what is now Moldova) and immigrated to Israel in 1978. He worked under Netanyahu from 1988 to 1997. Disillusioned by Netanyahu's willingness to consider concessions to the Palestinians, Lieberman founded Yisrael Beitenu as a platform for former Soviet immigrants. He was acquitted of corruption allegations in a 2013 case.


Yamina (Right) – 6 seats
Right-of-center merger of three parties: New Right, Jewish Home, and National Union; base of support among religious Zionists (mostly Ashkenazi Orthodox Jews); includes core constituencies supporting West Bank settlements and annexation.

Leader: Naftali Bennett
Born in 1972, Bennett is Israel's defense minister and served previously as education and economy minister. He served in various special forces units (including as a reservist during the 2006 Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon). Bennett was a successful software entrepreneur and has lived in America. He served as Netanyahu's chief of staff from 2006 to 2008 while Netanyahu was opposition leader. He led the Yesha Council (the umbrella organization for Israeli West Bank settlers) from 2010 to 2012.



Labor-Gesher-Meretz – 7 seats
Labor (Avoda) is Israel's historical repository of social democratic, left-of-center, prosecular Zionist ideology; associated with efforts to end Israel's responsibility for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The following two parties have joined Labor's electoral slate: center-left party Gesher (Bridge), and Meretz (Vigor), a pro-secular Zionist party that supports initiatives for social justice and peace with the Palestinians.

Leader: Amir Peretz
Born in 1952, Peretz became Labor's leader for the second time in July 2019, after serving as party leader from 2005 to 2007. He was first elected to the Knesset in 1988 and has served as defense minister (during the 2006 Hezbollah conflict) and environment minister. Peretz was a farmer in southern Israel and served as mayor of Sderot before joining the Knesset.



Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) – 33 seats

Merger between two centrist parties, Hosen L'Yisrael (Resilience) and Yesh Atid (There Is a Future).

Leader: Benny Gantz
Born in 1959, Gantz served as Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces from 2011 to 2015. He established Hosen L'Yisrael (Israel Resilience Party) in December 2018. He has sought to draw contrasts with Netanyahu less through policy specifics than by presenting himself as a figure who is less polarizing and less threatening to long-standing Israeli institutions such as the judiciary. By citing his military experience, Gantz apparently hopes to neutralize Netanyahu's traditional political advantage on national security issues.



Shas (Sephardic Torah Guardians) – 9 seats
Mizrahi Haredi ("ultra-Orthodox") party; favors welfare and education funds in support of Haredi lifestyle; opposes compromise with Palestinians on control over Jerusalem.

Leader: Aryeh Deri
Born in 1959, Deri is Israel's interior minister and minister for Negev and Galilee development. He led Shas from 1983 to 1999 before being convicted for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in 1999 for actions taken while serving as interior minister. He returned as the party's leader in 2013.


United Torah Judaism – 7 seats
Ashkenazi Haredi coalition (Agudat Yisrael and Degel Ha'torah); favors welfare and education funds in support of Haredi lifestyle; opposes territorial compromise with Palestinians and conscription of Haredim; generally seeks greater application of Jewish law.

Leader: Yaakov Litzman
Born in 1948, Litzman is Israel's health minister. He was born in Germany and raised in the United States before immigrating to Israel in 1965. Educated in yeshivas (traditional Jewish schools), he later served as principal of a Hasidic girls' school in Jerusalem. He was first elected to the Knesset in 1999 and has previously served as a member of the Knesset's finance committee.



Joint List – 15 seats

Electoral slate featuring four Arab parties that combine socialist, Islamist, and Arab nationalist political strains: Hadash (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality), Ta'al (Arab Movement for Renewal), Ra'am (United Arab List), Balad (National Democratic Assembly).

Leader: Ayman Odeh
Born in 1975, Odeh is the leader of Hadash, an Arab Israeli socialist party, and of the Joint List. An attorney, he served on the Haifa city council before becoming Hadash's national leader in 2006. He supports a more democratic, egalitarian, and peace-seeking society, and has sought protection for unrecognized Bedouin villages and advocated for drafting young Arab Israelis for military or civilian national service.

Sources: Various open sources.

Note: Knesset seat numbers based on unofficial results from the March 2, 2020, election.

Appendix B. Indictments Against Netanyahu and Steps of the Legal Process


Case 1000: Netanyahu received favors from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer, in return for taking actions in Milchan's favor.

The charge: Fraud and breach of trust

Netanyahu's defense: There is no legal problem in receiving gifts from friends; did not know that his family members requested gifts.

Case 2000: Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes struck a deal: Favorable coverage for Netanyahu in return for limiting the circulation of the Sheldon Adelson-owned newspaper Israel Hayom.

The charge: Fraud and breach of trust

Netanyahu's defense: He had no intention of implementing the deal, and relations between politicians and the media should not be criminalized.

Case 4000: As communication minister, Netanyahu took steps that benefited Shaul Elovitch who controlled telecom company Bezeqin return for favorable coverage in Bezeq's Walla News site

The charge: Bribery, fraud and breach of trust

Netanyahu's defense: There is no evidence that he was aware of making regulations contingent on favorable coverage.

Selected Steps in the Legal Process, and
the Time Between Them


Sources: For "Indictments," the content comes from Ha'aretz graphics adapted by CRS. For "Selected Steps in the Legal Process, and the Time Between Them," CRS prepared the graphic and made slight content adjustments to underlying source material from Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre. The interval listed between Steps 4-5 is an estimate.

Appendix C. Maps

Figure C-1. Conceptual Map of Israel

Source: White House, Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People, January 2020.

Figure C-2. Conceptual Map of Future Palestinian State

Source: White House, Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People, January 2020.

Figure C-3. Unofficial Map with Green Line

Notes: Green lines on map represent 1949-1967 Israel-Jordan armistice line (for West Bank) and 1950-1967 Israel-Egypt armistice line (for Gaza). All borders are approximate.

Author Contact Information

Jim Zanotti, Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])



Judy Maltz, "'An Earthquake': How Israel's Arabs Achieved Their Historic Election Win,", March 3, 2020.


"Netanyahu formally requests delay of corruption trial for 45 days," Times of Israel, March 9, 2020.


Jonathan Lis, "Israel's Election Is Over, So Now What? The Key Dates to Expect,", March 3, 2020.


According to Section 30(c) of Israel's Basic Law: The Government, if the prime minister's tenure ends, "the Government shall designate another of the Ministers who is a member of the Knesset and of the Prime Minister's faction to be Interim Prime Minister pending the constitution of the new Government."


Yossi Verter, "Netanyahu's Hat Has Run Out of Rabbits. Now Lieberman Can Finish Him Off,", March 6, 2020.


Jonathan Lis and Aaron Rabinowitz, "Israel Election: Gantz Meets for Coalition Talks with Lieberman,", March 9, 2020. Separately, Kahol Lavan and other parties could petition Israel's Supreme Court to prevent Netanyahu from having the mandate to form a government. In a January 2020 ruling on the question of whether a person under indictment could be tasked to form a government, the court declined to make a definitive decision, stating that the question was hypothetical before an election.


Raoul Wootliff, "Liberman may recommend Gantz for PM, will support bill to disqualify Netanyahu," Times of Israel, March 5, 2020.


Tovah Lazaroff, "Liberman says 'no fourth election,' remains kingmaker by slim margin,", March 3, 2020; "Lieberman Rules Out Joining Government with Arab Israeli Parties,", February 14, 2020.


Haviv Rettig Gur, "Ousting Netanyahu may turn out to be Gantz's biggest mistake," Times of Israel, March 6, 2020.


In Israel's history, no Arab-led party has joined a government, but there is a precedent for outside Arab support for a coalition led by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the 1990s.


Jonathan Lis, "Netanyahu Tries to Lure Lawmakers to Defect in Hunt for 61 Seats,", March 5, 2020.


Yohanan Plesner, "Third Time's a Charm?" The Israel Democracy Institute, February 10, 2020.


Elena Chachko, "Can the Netanyahu Government Annex Parts of the West Bank?" Lawfare Blog, January 31, 2020; Judah Ari Gross, "Can an interim cabinet that can't fund daycare annex the West Bank? Probably not," Times of Israel, January 29, 2020.


Chaim Levinson, "Netanyahu Says Cabinet Will Vote on Settlement Annexation Only After Israel's Election,", February 4, 2020.


For additional background, see CRS In Focus IF11237, Israel and the Palestinians: Chronology of a Two-State Solution, by Jim Zanotti.


White House, Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People, January 2020, available at See also White House fact sheet, President Donald J. Trump's Vision for Peace, Prosperity, and a Brighter Future for Israel and the Palestinian People, January 28, 2020.


Laura Kelly, "Democrats offer mixed reactions to Trump's Mideast peace plan,", January 28, 2020; Letter to President Trump from 12 Senators at; Letter to the President from 107 Representatives at


See footnote 16.


"Netanyahu says will press ahead with E-1 settlement project in West Bank," Reuters, February 25, 2020; "US gave PM green light for Givat Hamatos construction 1.5 years ago – report," Times of Israel, February 25, 2020.


For background information on settlements and U.S. policy, see CRS Report RL33476, Israel: Background and U.S. Relations, by Jim Zanotti. For information on the Jordan Valley, see Ben Sales, "Netanyahu's push to annex the Jordan Valley, explained," Jewish Telegraphic Agency, September 10, 2019.


"Israel rejects Trump's idea of redrawing borders, moving Arab towns to Palestine," Times of Israel, February 2, 2020.


David M. Halbfinger and Isabel Kershner, "Trump's Would-Be Palestinian Capital: Dangerous, Scattered Slums," New York Times, February 1, 2020. For background information on and maps of Jerusalem, see CRS Report RL33476, Israel: Background and U.S. Relations, by Jim Zanotti. The East Jerusalem areas earmarked for the Palestinians were added to the Jerusalem municipality after Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan in 1967.


For more information on the "status quo," see CRS Report RL33476, Israel: Background and U.S. Relations, by Jim Zanotti.


"US envoy: We won't impose change to status quo to let Jews pray at Temple Mount," Times of Israel, January 29, 2020.


For background information on Palestinian self-governance, see CRS In Focus IF10644, The Palestinians: Overview and Key Issues for U.S. Policy, by Jim Zanotti.


See footnote 22.


White House, Remarks by President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu of the State of Israel in Joint Statements, January 28, 2020. During that time, the plan and President Trump's remarks—taken together—anticipate that Israel would refrain from building or expanding Jewish settlements in West Bank areas earmarked for a future Palestinian state, and from demolishing existing structures in those areas—subject to exceptions for safety and responses to acts of terrorism.


Israeli insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people was reportedly introduced into an Israeli-Palestinian negotiating context by Tzipi Livni when she was Israeli foreign minister during the 2007-2008 Annapolis negotiations. "The Pursuit of Middle East Peace: A Status Report," Ambassador Martin Indyk, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, May 8, 2014. Other specified criteria for Palestinian statehood include reforms in governance and rule of law, and anti-incitement in educational curricula.


Raphael Ahren, "Cheering Trump plan, Netanyahu says he will start annexation process Sunday," Times of Israel, January 28, 2020.


Eric Cortellessa, "US envoy: Israel 'does not have to wait' to annex settlements," Times of Israel, January 28, 2020.


"Kushner on Israeli annexation plans: not now," GZERO Media, January 30, 2020.


Chaim Levinson, "Netanyahu Says Cabinet Will Vote on Settlement Annexation Only After Israel's Election,", February 4, 2020.


Ben Caspit, "Netanyahu wants/needs annexation before elections," Al-Monitor, January 31, 2020; Lahav Harkov, "Applying 'Deal of the Century' and annexation put on ice – analysis,", January 30, 2020; Noa Landau, "Friedman Pushed Netanyahu to Annex, Then Kushner Stepped In,", January 30, 2020.


"US mapping team for West Bank annexation said en route to Israel," Times of Israel, February 23, 2020.


Barak Ravid, "U.S. to approve Israeli annexations within months if Palestinians don't negotiate," Axios, March 5, 2020.


Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, "The problem with Trump's Middle East peace plan,", February 23, 2020.


Text of Golan Heights Law, December 14, 1981, available at


Yuval Shany, "Israel's New Plan to Annex the West Bank: What Happens Next?" Lawfare Blog, May 6, 2019.


Ibid. See also


Hagar Shezaf, "Annexation for Dummies: Making Sense of Netanyahu and Gantz's Declarations,", January 26, 2020.




See footnote 38.


"Israel's Planned Annexation Will Violate International Law," Associated Press, February 4, 2020. An oft-cited international law provision pertaining to Israeli settlements is the Fourth Geneva Convention, Part III, Section III, Article 49 Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, August 12, 1949, which states in its last sentence, "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies." Israel insists that the West Bank does not fall under the international law definition of "occupied territory," but is rather "disputed territory" because the previous occupying power (Jordan) did not have an internationally recognized claim to it (only a few countries recognized Jordan's 1950 annexation of the West Bank), and given the demise of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I and the end of the British Mandate in 1948, Israel claims that no international actor has superior legal claim to it.


The 1993 Declaration of Principles (Oslo I) and the 1995 Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip (Oslo II) between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) both contemplated that the parties would negotiate a "permanent settlement based on [U.N.] Security Council Resolutions 242 [1967] and 338 [1973]," which support the principle of Israel withdrawing from territories that its military captured during the June 1967 war in exchange for "just and lasting peace" with its Arab adversaries. The text of the Declaration of Principles is available at, and the text of the Interim Agreement is available at


"Arab League rejects Trump's Israeli-Palestinian peace plan," Deutsche Welle, February 1, 2020.


Ibid. The initiative offers a comprehensive Arab peace with Israel if Israel were to withdraw fully from the territories it occupied in 1967, agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem, and provide for the "[a]chievement of a just solution to the Palestinian Refugee problem in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194." The initiative was proposed by Saudi Arabia, adopted by the 22-member Arab League (which includes the PLO), and later accepted by the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (now the Organization of Islamic Cooperation) at its 2005 Mecca summit. The text of the initiative is available at


Heba Saleh, "Palestinians sever ties with US and Israel,", February 2, 2020.


Dion Nissenbaum, "Arab Support for Peace Plan Marks a Shift," Wall Street Journal, January 30, 2020.


For background information on Jordan, see CRS Report RL33546, Jordan: Background and U.S. Relations, by Jeremy M. Sharp.


Amos Harel, "Senior Defense Officials Warn Annexation Would Endanger Israel's Peace with Jordan,", January 30, 2020.


"Jordanian king expresses reservations over Trump peace plan," Times of Israel, January 27, 2020.


See, e.g., Ibid.


"'Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital irreversible Jordanian stance,'" Jordan Times, January 28, 2020.


"EU rejects Trump Mideast plan amid annexation concerns," Associated Press, February 4, 2020.


"Israel Poised to Clash With the International Criminal Court Over West Bank Settlements," Associated Press, January 29, 2020.


ICC, Statement of ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, on the conclusion of the preliminary examination of the Situation in Palestine, and seeking a ruling on the scope of the Court's territorial jurisdiction, December 20, 2019.


CRS In Focus IF10644, The Palestinians: Overview and Key Issues for U.S. Policy, by Jim Zanotti.


Gad Lior, "Cost of border fences, underground barrier, reaches NIS 6bn," Ynetnews, January 30, 2018.


Ibid.; CRS Report RL33476, Israel: Background and U.S. Relations, by Jim Zanotti.


CRS Report RL33476, Israel: Background and U.S. Relations, by Jim Zanotti; CRS Report RL33222, U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel, by Jeremy M. Sharp.


The United States and Israel do, however, have a Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement (TIAS 2675, dated July 23, 1952) in effect regarding the provision of U.S. military equipment to Israel, and have entered into a range of stand-alone agreements, memoranda of understanding, and other arrangements varying in their formality.


Raphael Ahren, "After Pompeo meet, Netanyahu says Israel has 'full right' to annex Jordan Valley," Times of Israel, December 5, 2019; "Trump says he talked Mutual Defense Pact with Netanyahu, will pick up after vote," Times of Israel, September 14, 2019.


For information on this topic, see CRS Report R44017, Iran's Foreign and Defense Policies, by Kenneth Katzman.


See, e.g., CRS Report R46148, U.S. Killing of Qasem Soleimani: Frequently Asked Questions, coordinated by Clayton Thomas.


Uzi Even, "Iran Attack on Saudi Arabia Shows Why Israel Must Shut Down Its Nuclear Reactor,", October 6, 2019.


CRS Report R44759, Lebanon, by Carla E. Humud; CRS In Focus IF10703, Lebanese Hezbollah, by Carla E. Humud.


For possible conflict scenarios, see Hanin Ghaddar, "How Will Hezbollah Respond to Israel's Drone Attack?" Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Policywatch 3171, August 28, 2019; Seth G. Jones and Maxwell B. Markusen, "The Escalating Conflict with Hezbollah in Syria," Center for Strategic and International Studies, June 2018; Israel's Next Northern War: Operational and Legal Challenges, Jewish Institute for National Security of America, October 2018.


See, e.g., Seth Jones, "War by Proxy: Iran's Growing Footprint in the Middle East," Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 11, 2019; Jonathan Spyer and Nicholas Blanford, "UPDATE: Israel raises alarm over advances by Hizbullah and Iran," Jane's Intelligence Review, January 11, 2018.


Ben Caspit, "Hezbollah, Israel losing red lines," Al-Monitor, September 4, 2019; Katherine Bauer, et al., "Iran's Precision Missile Project Moves to Lebanon," Washington Institute for Near East Policy, December 2018.


Israeli Prime Minister's Office, PM Netanyahu in the NorthIsrael Attacked a Warehouse with Iranian Weapons at Damascus International Airport, January 13, 2019.


Israeli Prime Minister's Office, PM and DM Netanyahu Holds Security Tour in the North and Assessment of the Situation with IDF Chief-of-Staff, GOC Northern Command and Other Senior Officers, August 25, 2019; Amos Harel, "Beirut Strike Target: Vital Iranian Device for Hezbollah's Mass Missile Production,", August 28, 2019.


David M. Halbfinger, "Hezbollah, Citing Israeli Attacks in Syria and Lebanon, Counters With Raid on Military Post," New York Times, September 2, 2019.


Ghaddar, op. cit. footnote 67.


David Halbfinger, et al., "Israel Counters Iran in Flare-Up of Shadow War," New York Times, August 29, 2019; Caspit, op. cit. footnote 69.


Jones, "War by Proxy: Iran's Growing Footprint in the Middle East," op. cit. footnote 68.


Anna Ahronheim, "Russia: Syrian air defense nearly hit passenger plane after Israeli attack,", February 8, 2020; Seth J. Frantzman, "What's behind Russia's criticism of Israeli airstrikes in Syria,", February 8, 2020.


See, e.g., Israeli Prime Minister's Office, PM Netanyahu's Speech at the United Nations General Assembly, September 27, 2018.


Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt, "Iran Is Secretly Moving Missiles Into Iraq, U.S. Officials Say," New York Times, December 5, 2019.


Nati Yefet and Judah Ari Gross, "Bennett: US agreed to counter Iran in Iraq while Israel fights it in Syria," Times of Israel, February 10, 2020.