The Israeli political structure consists of a parliamentary democracy. The concepts of balance of power and checks and balances are emphasized, although a written constitution is not present. The three strands of government, namely the executive, legislative and judicial branches are to operate fairly independently. The legislative branch, called the "Knesset", is the primary voting body to which the executive body led by the prime minister and the cabinet of ministers are accountable.
The Knesset, or parliament, comprises 120 members. The members of Knesset (MKs) are elected through a system where constituents vote for a political partyzzz*zs list and the winning party designates membership to the Knesset. Israel consists of one voting district with a direct and discreet voting system. Typically, the Knesset is represented by ten to 15 parties, among which the party with the most votes chooses the prime minister. If it appears impossible for that party to form a coalition, the president may designate another party to do so, as in the February 2009 elections. The designated party is required to form a coalition of a majority of seats in the Knesset.
In 1992, the Knesset passed legislation allowing for the direct election of the prime minister, who would then form a coalition from elected Knesset parties. The experiment lasted until March 2001, when the parliament reverted to a slightly-modified version of the original. Critics said that direct election placed too much bargaining power in the hands of small parties.
The president is the titular head of state who performs many official functions. However he/she is not empowered with decision-making related to foreign policy, defense, or rule of law. The president, elected for a seven-year term by a simple majority of the Knesset, appoints a Knesset member from the most powerful party to form a cabinet and serve as prime minister. The members of Knesset approve the cabinet, which serves for four years alongside the prime minister. The cabinetzzz*zs authority is broad, and includes non-portfolio as well as portfolio positions. Education, defense, culture, economy, and health are some of the primary fields of policy making. The cabinet sometimes includes persons who are not members of Knesset at the time, although they must be citizens and residents of Israel.
Israel’s judiciary is designed to be independent of its other branches in rule of law and often is in practice. The Supreme Court, consisting of nine members, is the highest court of appeal. It is empowered to deal with claims against the government or governmental agents.
Most civil and criminal cases fall under the jurisdiction of magistrate and district courts. However, subsidiary courts dealing separately with appeals related to juvenile, military, traffic, labor, and municipal issues also exist. Personal status issues, such as marriage and divorce, are determined by the respective religious courts of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths. A separate military court system handles cases related to the occupied Palestinian territories.
In the absence of a written constitution, Israel functions on the basis of material constitutional laws or basic laws considered foundational to the system, as well as a large and growing corpus of cases that form precedents. In this regard, Israel has borrowed from the legal system of the United Kingdom which also lacks a written constitution.
It is also influenced by other systems, such as the incorporation of aspects of judicial review (the ability of the supreme court to overturn Knesset decisions), similar to the United States system. On January 12, 2009, for example, the Central Election Committee of the Knesset banned two Arab parties, United Arab List, and Balad from running in the planned February 10th elections. However, the Supreme Court overturned this order in January 2009.