The State of Israel, established in 1948, is a secular democratic republic. The parliament (“Knesset”), located in Jerusalem, the state’s capital, is a unicameral chamber of 120 members elected by universal suffrage every four years under a system of proportional representation of party lists. The legislative authority lies with the Knesset which, inter alia, enacts legislation and approves the state budget. The Executive Authority, headed by the Prime Minister who is elected directly by members of the largest parliamentary party, is responsible to the Knesset.
The President, who is the head of state, is elected by the Knesset for a five year term and limited to two consecutive terms in office. His functions are mostly ceremonial. He charges the Prime Minister with the formation of a government after elections for a new term of the Knesset, appoints certain senior state officials, accredits Israel’s envoys to foreign countries and has the power to pardon criminal offenders or commute their sentences.
The State Comptroller is appointed by the Knesset and is required to audit and supervise the assets, finances and obligations of the state including the operations of government ministries, state owned corporations, enterprises and institutions, local authorities and other agencies subject to his inspection, all as prescribed under chapter 2 of the State Comptroller Act of 1958.
The central bank of the State is the Bank of Israel. Its Governor is appointed for a five year term by the President. The Bank is in charge of the management of the national monetary policy, controls banking institutions, mints coins and supplies banknotes, manages foreign reserves and state borrowing, controls foreign currency, coordinates with international banking and financial agencies, keeps the government’s books and serves as economic adviser to the government.
The courts are independent of the Executive and of the Legislature. Judges are appointed by the President who confirms the selection of the Judicial Appointments Committee. The Supreme Court, comprising a president, vice president and twelve justices (ten permanent and two temporary) is situated in Jerusalem. The Supreme Court is Israel’s highest judicial body and functions both as the High Court of Appeals and as a High Court of Justice for cases which were originally defined as within that court’s jurisdiction or which did not fall under the jurisdiction of other courts. The second level of courts is the District Courts which are located in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beer Sheva and Nazareth. The District Court serves as the court of first instance and also as the court of appeals for civil and criminal cases tried in the Magistrate Courts. Alongside the formal judicial system, a large portion of the civil litigious disputes are solved through various arbitration mechanisms whose judgments or rather arbitral awards are, in essence, as enforceable as those issued by the courts themselves.
Given the numerous religious groups within Israel, many inter-personal disputes are settled by religious courts with circumscribed jurisdiction.
The Israeli legal system was based, upon independence, almost entirely on the British legal system. In the upcoming years a large volume of legislation was enacted thus amending the law and adapting it to the ever changing needs of the country and dynamics of life. Nevertheless the Israeli legislature and judicial system have always been Anglo-American or rather common law oriented and continue to rely on American and English authorities. Today however, the American influence is more significant in the law and the courts decisions than the English one.
Israel is a member of the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the World Health Organization. It is also a party to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and numerous conventions
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