Back to accessibility links

Israel's government and parliament

Jan. 21, 2012

Israelis will go to the polls on Jan. 22 to elect their 19th Knesset, or parliament. The 120-member Knesset is responsible for passing and amending the country's laws.

Here is a look at the country's electoral and parliamentary system.


Israeli elections are officially held every four years, although elections can be called at any time.

The country uses proportional representation; citizens vote for the party of their choice rather than individual candidates.

A party must receive at least two per cent of the national vote in order to qualify for seats in Israel's parliament, the Knesset.

The people who become members are selected by their parties.

(Kevin Frayer/AP)

The Knesset

Israel's parliament consists of a single chamber called the Knesset. "Knesset" is the Hebrew word for "assembly."

There are 120 seats in the Knesset. The seats are allotted to the parties that have received at least two per cent of the national vote in the last election, according to how much of the vote they received.

The Knesset elects its Speaker, the country's prime minister and, officially, the president. (The president is chosen by the prime minister, but the decision is approved by the Knesset.)

There are at least two sittings — summer and winter — in a Knesset session.

(Jim Hollander/AP)


A party needs at least 61 seats to form a majority government in the Knesset, but Israel's use of proportional representation and high number of political parties makes reaching that standard difficult. In fact, no party has ever formed an outright majority in the Knesset. (Alignment's 56 seats in the 1969 election is the closest a party has come.)

Because of this, Israel's governments are coalition governments. Depending on the politicking after an election, the party with the highest share of the popular vote might not form a government at all. This was the case in 2009, when Kadima (led by Tzipi Livni) won one more seat than Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu — but Netanyahu formed a coalition government.

A member of the Israeli Likud party awaits a speech from leader Benjamin Netanyahu on election night, Feb. 11, 2009. (Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)


At the beginning of a sitting, members of the Knesset elect a Speaker.

Bills must go through multiple phases before becoming law:

  • first reading (including a general debate in the assembly);
  • referral to committee for amendments;
  • second reading (including debate and voting on each individual section);
  • a third and final reading of the amended bill.

The Knesset is the only parliamentary chamber in Israel; there is no "upper house" that legislation is sent to after passing in the Knesset.

Non-government members can propose private members' bills; the Speaker then decides whether those bills are suitable for the parliamentary agenda. Private members' bills are considered once a week during a session.



The Knesset is located in the Givat Ram neighbourhood of Jerusalem. Construction of the current building began in 1958; prior to its completion in 1966, the Knesset met in various locations around Israel (including a cinema in Tel Aviv).

In the 1950s, the government held a competition for architects interested in designing the permanent Knesset building. Joseph Klarwein won first prize, and his design was used.

The interior design of the plenary hall, where the assembly meets, was not without controversy. Multiple architects quarrelled over everything from the design and layout of the ceiling to whether or not to construct a special seat for the Israeli president.

Guests at the opening ceremony of the Knesset, the newly built, permanent home of the Israeli legislature in Jerusalem, Sept. 1, 1966. (Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


Israel's many political parties represent a wide range of views on economic, social and religious issues.

Prior to the 2013 election, 14 parties held seats in the Knesset. Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, headed up a coalition government with the Yisrael Beiteinu, Independence, Shas, Jewish Home and United Torah Judaism parties.

The opposition consisted of Kadima, Labour, National Union, New Movement — Meretz, Hadash, United Arab List, Balad and Ta'al.

Party leaders pose for a group picture with President Shimon Peres after the swearing-in ceremony of the 18th Knesset, Feb. 24, 2009. (Jim Hollander/AP)


The Knesset has been called one of the best-guarded government buildings in the world.

The building itself contains more than 400 security cameras, with another 40 lining the perimeter.

The Knesset Guard, the parliament's security team, consists of two units: the Interventions Unit, which patrols the grounds in plainclothes and responds to specific incidents, and the Oz Force, which is assigned to protect specific people.

The building hasn't been free from incidents; in 2008, a floor of the building was cleared after a parliamentarian received an envelope containing a white powder.

A guard stands outside the Knesset before a session to mark the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Nov. 14, 2005. (Oded Balilty/AP)

Source: Knesset

Story Social Media

End of Story Social Media