Binyamin Netanyahu celebrates his re-election. Photo: MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images
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Might Binyamin Netanyahu surprise us all - again?

Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu defied the polls to win re-election last week. Uri Dromes offers his quiet wish for statesmanship from the leader.

The outcome of the Israeli elections on 17 March was a great personal victory for Binyamin Netanyahu, who had been dismissed by pundits a few days earlier as a relic of the past. Indeed, it was a double victory: not only will Netanyahu be able to form a stable right-wing government, he’ll be able to address grievances of little interest to those outside Israel.

Ever since the Six Day War in 1967, there has existed a tension between maintaining state security and addressing socio-economic concerns. Common wisdom dictated that security would always prevail. However, the social unrest of 2011, when hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the street to protest about the rising cost of living, seemed to change that. A new political party, Yesh Atid, led by Yair Lapid, was created to funnel the protesters’ frustrations into mainstream politics. Lapid’s tenure as finance minister, however, produced a mixed response.

His dismissal paved the way for Moshe Kahlon, a rising star who as minister of communications had succeeded in sharply reducing the cost of mobile-phone calls – and now promises to repeat the miracle with housing costs. By giving Kahlon the finance brief and making him the housing tsar, Netanyahu is reassuring Israelis that he is attuned to their real-life aspirations.

If this stroke of political mastery were not enough, by single-handedly running a campaign of fear in the days before the election – warning that the left was about to take over – Netanyahu managed to snatch many voters from the parties that had outflanked him on the right: Habayit Hayehudi (the Jewish Home), led by Naftali Bennett, and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytenu (Our Israel). The result was that, unlike in the previous government – where it was held hostage by medium-sized parties – Netanyahu’s Likud today towers over its potential coalition partners, allowing Bibi much greater control and stability.

And yet, with all due respect for domestic matters and the stability of the coalition, Netanyahu’s new government will still need to address the strategic challenges particular to Israel: the volatile Middle East, the immediate threats of Hamas and Hezbollah, nuclear Iran and the so-called peace process with the Palestinians.

Many Israelis, myself included, feel that Netanyahu has failed in dealing with each and every one of these issues. But the result of the election clearly showed that we are in a minority. That’s the beauty of democracy. It appears, then, that on all these fronts Israel will carry on as before.

The problem is that if the worst comes to the worst, on three out of the four issues there are certain military responses available. Not so with the question of Palestine. Without a bold move in this arena, Israel will eventually become one binational state, losing its Jewish identity, or its democracy, or both. Netanyahu, who during the campaign renounced his 2009 acceptance of a Palestinian state, will not have the luxury of ignoring the matter. Either he embraces the 2002 Arab League proposal for a comprehensive regional peace, or he will face growing pressure from the world community, encouraged by a frustrated President Barack Obama.

As someone who did not vote for Netanyahu, I pray that he surprises me. Not with strokes of political expertise, but with a show of statesmanship. This is what Israel desperately needs. Doing nothing, ignoring the issue, is no longer an option.

This article first appeared in the 27 March 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Easter Double 2015

Photo: Getty
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Jeremy Corbyn sat down on train he claimed was full, Virgin says

The train company has pushed back against a viral video starring the Labour leader, in which he sat on the floor.

Seats were available on the train where Jeremy Corbyn was filmed sitting on the floor, Virgin Trains has said.

On 16 August, a freelance film-maker who has been following the Labour leader released a video which showed Corbyn talking about the problems of overcrowded trains.

“This is a problem that many passengers face every day, commuters and long-distance travellers. Today this train is completely ram-packed,” he said. Is it fair that I should upgrade my ticket whilst others who might not be able to afford such a luxury should have to sit on the floor? It’s their money I would be spending after all.”

Commentators quickly pointed out that he would not have been able to claim for a first-class upgrade, as expenses rules only permit standard-class travel. Also, campaign expenses cannot be claimed back from the taxpayer. 

Today, Virgin Trains released footage of the Labour leader walking past empty unreserved seats to film his video, which took half an hour, before walking back to take another unreserved seat.

"CCTV footage taken from the train on August 11 shows Mr Corbyn and his team walked past empty, unreserved seats in coach H before walking through the rest of the train to the far end, where his team sat on the floor and started filming.

"The same footage then shows Mr Corbyn returning to coach H and taking a seat there, with the help of the onboard crew, around 45 minutes into the journey and over two hours before the train reached Newcastle.

"Mr Corbyn’s team carried out their filming around 30 minutes into the journey. There were also additional empty seats on the train (the 11am departure from King’s Cross) which appear from CCTV to have been reserved but not taken, so they were also available for other passengers to sit on."

A Virgin spokesperson commented: “We have to take issue with the idea that Mr Corbyn wasn’t able to be seated on the service, as this clearly wasn’t the case.

A spokesman for the Corbyn campaign told BuzzFeed News that the footage was a “lie”, and that Corbyn had given up his seat for a woman to take his place, and that “other people” had also sat in the aisles.

Owen Smith, Corbyn's leadership rival, tried a joke:

But a passenger on the train supported Corbyn's version of events.

Both Virgin Trains and the Corbyn campaign have been contacted for further comment.

UPDATE 17:07

A spokesperson for the Jeremy for Labour campaign commented:

“When Jeremy boarded the train he was unable to find unreserved seats, so he sat with other passengers in the corridor who were also unable to find a seat. 

"Later in the journey, seats became available after a family were upgraded to first class, and Jeremy and the team he was travelling with were offered the seats by a very helpful member of staff.

"Passengers across Britain will have been in similar situations on overcrowded, expensive trains. That is why our policy to bring the trains back into public ownership, as part of a plan to rebuild and transform Britain, is so popular with passengers and rail workers.”

A few testimonies from passengers who had their photos taken with Corbyn on the floor can be found here