An unexpected triumph. Photo: Getty
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Israeli election: surprise victory for Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud party

Although polls suggested a tight race, Israel's Prime Minister has won for another term.

The leader of the Likud party, Binyamin Netanyahu, has won a surprise victory in Israel's election.

The incumbent defied the exit polls that were suggesting a dead heat between the centre-left Zionist Union and the right-wing Likud party.

After the build-up to the election showed his party trailing Zionist Union in the opinion polls, Netanyahu is now in a position to form a right-wing coalition government. He is on track to becoming Israel's longest-serving prime minister.

He has called it a "great victory" for Likud, and his party will begin negotiations immediately in the hope of forming a government within two to three weeks.

But Israel's political future remains uncertain. To snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, Netanyahu lurched to the ultra-nationalist Israeli right, making pledges that could lead to the country's relationship with the US and Europe deteriorating further.

He also promised thousands of new homes for settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories, and asserted that he would not allow the Palestinians to have their own state.

In this week's NS cover story on the Israeli elections, the BBC's Jeremy Bowen wrote:

No one who is interested in the impact of the Middle East on the rest of the world should focus solely on the turmoil in the Arab countries. The politics of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians are evolving, but the conflict remains as poisonous as ever. The lesson of history is that when it is left to fester, it becomes unstable and then explodes.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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