Israel profile

Prime minister: Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Mr Netanyahu campaigned on a policy of toughness towards Palestinian militancy

Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud party, became prime minister after an inconclusive early election in February 2009, a decade after holding the office once before.

The outgoing administration, led by the centrist Kadima party, failed to reassemble as a new centre-left coalition, and Mr Netanyahu was able to form a government with the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, various Jewish religious parties and the centre-left Labour party. He later united Yisrael Beinteinu with Likud in an attempt to form a broad conservative party.

This government managed to steer Israel out of the global economic recession, but faced mounting protests about the rising cost of living.

It also failed to make any headway in relations with the Palestinians, Jewish settlers on the West Bank and the Obama administration in the United States.

During the election Mr Netanyahu had pledged not to transfer land occupied by Israel to a Palestinian state in return for peace, on the grounds that previous Israeli withdrawals had only met with further Palestinian armed attacks.

Several months later he angered settlers by accepting the creation of Palestinian state, but his conditions, including its complete demilitarisation. were unacceptable to Palestinian leaders.

The prime minister's refusal to concede a full suspension of settlement activity - a key Palestinian condition for a return to stalled peace talks - frustrated the United States, and a partial suspension of permits for new settlements in 2009-2010 only served to spark angry protests by settlers.

Mr Netanyahu's repeated warnings over the perceived threat of Iran's nuclear programme have also complicated relations with the US.

A coalition dispute over the budget prompted Mr Netanyahu to call an early election in January 2013, which saw a boost for two new secular parties - Yesh Atid in the centre and the pro-settler Jewish Home - in a campaign fought mainly on economic issues.

After months of wrangling the prime minister managed to assemble a coalition with these two parties, plus a small splinter group from Kadima, that excluded the Jewish religious parties and raised the possibility of one of Israel's periodic attempts at rolling back the influence of ultra-Orthodox groups.

During his previous term as prime minister in 1996-99 Mr Netanyahu was initially hostile towards the new Palestinian Authority, but went on to show some flexibility while maintaining a security-first policy.

Defeated by Labour leader Ehud Barak in 1999, he later served as finance minister under Likud PM Ariel Sharon, pushing through a series of market-oriented reforms before resigning in 2005 in protest at Mr Sharon's decision to pull out from Gaza.

Mr Netanyahu was born in 1949 in Tel Aviv, and spent part of his childhood in the United States where his father was a professor . During his five years in Israel's army, he served as captain of an elite commando unit. A fluent English-speaker, Mr Netanyahu has long been a prominent advocate for Israel in the international media.

President: Shimon Peres

Israeli President Shimon Peres Israel's elder statesman, Shimon Peres

The Israeli president has a mainly ceremonial role; executive power is vested in the cabinet, headed by the prime minister.

On 13 June 2007, the Israeli parliament chose the veteran politician Shimon Peres to succeed Moshe Katsav, who had taken leave of absence from the presidency earlier in the year after being accused of various sexual offences.

The president has in the past been seen by Israelis as the nation's moral compass, and many hoped that Mr Peres would restore dignity to what they saw as a tarnished office.

Mr Peres was a leading member of the Labour party for decades, but left in 2005 and later joined the centrist Kadima party.

He twice served as prime minister, and in 1994 was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize when foreign minister in recognition of his role in bringing about the signing of Israel's first interim peace accord with the Palestine Liberation Organisation in Oslo the previous year.

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