Head of state: Shimon Peres
Head of government: Benjamin Netanyahu
Death penalty: abolitionist for ordinary crimes
Population: 7.3 million (Israel); 4.4 million (OPT)
Life expectancy: 80.3 years (Israel); 72.9 years (OPT)
Under - 5 mortality (m/f): 6/5 per 1,000 (Israel); 23/18 per 1,000 (OPT)
A ceasefire between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups agreed in January 2009 was generally respected. The Israeli army maintained draconian controls on the movement of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), including a blockade on the Gaza Strip that deepened hardship and virtually imprisoned the entire population of 1.5 million. The Israeli authorities rejected or delayed applications for permits to leave Gaza submitted by hundreds of Palestinians requiring specialist medical treatment; a few died as a result. Most of Gaza's inhabitants depended on international aid, which was severely hampered by the blockade. In May, Israeli forces killed nine men aboard an aid flotilla in international waters that was aiming to breach the blockade. In the West Bank, the movement of Palestinians was severely curtailed by hundreds of Israeli checkpoints and barriers, and by the 700km fence/wall that Israel continued to build mostly inside the West Bank. There was a substantial increase in the number of demolitions by Israeli authorities of Palestinian homes, water cisterns and other structures in the West Bank, affecting thousands of people. Israeli authorities also destroyed homes in Bedouin villages in the south of Israel. The expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on seized Palestinian land, partially frozen until 26 September, resumed. Israel still did not conduct adequate investigations into alleged war crimes and other serious violations of international law by its forces during Operation "Cast Lead", the 22-day offensive in Gaza in December 2008/January 2009, during which nearly 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 300 children, were killed. Israeli soldiers and settlers who committed serious abuses against Palestinians, including unlawful killings, assaults and attacks against property, were generally not held to account for their crimes. Israeli military forces killed 33 Palestinian civilians in the OPT, including eight children. Hundreds of Palestinians were arrested and detained by Israeli forces; at least 264 were held without charge or trial under administrative detention orders, some had been held for over two years. Reports of torture and other ill-treatment were frequent, but investigations were rare. Around 6,000 Palestinians remained in Israeli prisons, many after unfair military trials. Israeli conscientious objectors to military service continued to be imprisoned.
The border area between Israel and Lebanon remained tense. On 3 August, an exchange of fire between Israeli and Lebanese soldiers resulted in the deaths of at least three soldiers and a Lebanese journalist.
While the ceasefire between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups was largely maintained, the latter periodically fired indiscriminate rockets and mortars into southern Israel (see Palestinian Authority entry), although at a lower rate than in previous years, and Israeli forces attacked and killed Palestinians they said were responsible. On 31 August, four Israeli settlers were shot dead in the West Bank; the attack was claimed by the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, the Palestinian group that won elections in 2006 and administers Gaza.
Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), but excluding Hamas, were convened by the US government in September. However, they were soon suspended when Israel's 10-month partial moratorium on new settlement-building in the OPT ended on 26 September, prompting the PA's withdrawal from direct talks. The moratorium had excluded East Jerusalem and its surrounding area, and in the West Bank construction for "security needs" and of public buildings had continued unabated.