By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won re-election in Israel last month, after a tight race with rival Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union. Just weeks before the election, Netanyahu gave a big speech to the USA’s lawmaking Congress, criticizing the White House for making a nuclear deal with Iran. Now, a political agreement with Iran has been reached, but a final solution is still being hammered out.
Unlike the USA, Israel votes for parties rather than individuals. While no party has ever won a majority, the win goes to the party most likely to build a 61-seat majority through political alliances with other parties. Netanyahu’s Likud Party scored 30 seats in the 120-seat Israeli parliament, while the Zionist Union landed 24 seats.
The Jewish country of Israel is a key USA ally in the Middle East, where it often battles neighboring Palestine over territory and has an intense rivalry with the Islamic country of Iran.
After World War II ended in 1945 with the defeat of Nazi Germany’s leader, Adolph Hitler, his anti-Jewish Holocaust movement left thousands of surviving Jews. They abandoned their broken communities in Europe to make a home in the territories that later became Israel, which they claimed was theirs since Biblical times. However, Arabs had long ago conquered areas like Jerusalem, which both Israelis and Palestinians call their capital.
See, the region is known as the Holy Land, and it has been a major point of conflict for centuries given its association with Christian, Jewish, and Islamic religious figures like Jesus, Abraham, and Muhammad. In the late 1940s, Israel was officially recognized as a country, but decades of military and political conflict followed with nations including Palestine, Iran, Egypt, and Jordan.
Meanwhile, American relations with Iran have been tense for years, because the USA and its allies are concerned that Iran’s nuclear power development is meant for bombs rather than energy. However, the current Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, made a historic phone call to USA President Barack Obama in 2013, the first such top-level conversation in more than 30 years.
As they negotiate a nuclear deal that would ease economic restrictions on Iran and let it develop nuclear power more freely, Netanyahu doubts Rouhani’s intentions and came to Congress to express his concerns. His visit was somewhat controversial, since it was two weeks before Israelis voted on whether or not to elect Netanyahu for a fourth term, and Congressional Republicans invited him rather than Obama, who criticized the visit. This was Netanyahu’s third time addressing Congress, tying the record of Britain’s Prime Minister during World War II, Winston Churchill, who is considered one of the greatest wartime leaders of the 20th century.
Although a basic deal was reached in early April, between USA-led allies and Iran, there’s a long way to go before anything is finalized. Still, citizens of Iran celebrated the political agreement, seeing it as a hopeful sign of better economic times to come. A final deadline has been set for June 30, as international diplomats try to negotiate a balanced set of terms. The USA, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany are the main players involved in diplomatic efforts, as part of the “P5+1” group of world powers.
Featured image courtesy of Prime Minister of Israel on Flickr.