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Benjamin Netanyahu: The man they call ‘the magician’ has run out of tricks | World News

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Benjamin Netanyahu, the ever-present figure in Israeli politics for three decades is down and out.

“Bibi”, to give him his near-universal nickname, has been written off so many times, but now, the man they call “the magician” has run out of tricks and run out of road.

After four elections in just two years, 24 months of political stagnation, a new dawn has broken for Israeli politics. It heralds the beginning for a remarkable coalition and the end for an extraordinary political operator.

Anshel Pfeffer, Netanyahu’s biographer, said Netanyahu "was Trump before Trump"
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Anshel Pfeffer, Netanyahu’s biographer, said Netanyahu ‘was Trump before Trump’

Trump before Trump

Benjamin Netanyahu has been Israel‘s prime minister for the last 12 years: the longest serving leader in the country’s history. That wasn’t the start though. He was also prime minister between 1996 and 1999. In opposition before then and between those two stints, he was in the wings, plotting and driving his form of populist nationalist politics.

Bibi, the secular Jewish populist, cast himself as the defender of the nation against Iran, the defender of the Jewish State against the Palestinians, and most recently, as the saviour of the nation against coronavirus.

He is a politician who was channelling Trump while the former American president was still building casinos.

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“He was Trump before Trump,” Netanyahu’s unofficial biographer, Anshel Pfeffer told me.

“He is a constant campaigner, he’s basically running for re-election the whole time. He doesn’t take a break between elections. So many of the populist politicians we talk about today – Orban in Hungary, Boris Johnson; Netanyahu was doing a lot of what they are doing now long before they were on the scene.

“Probably the only politician who was doing this in the television era before Netanyahu is Silvio Berlusconi in Italy,” Pfeffer said.

A survivor not a winner

Curiously Netanyahu was never actually a landslide politician. While often compared, as a savvy political operator, to Blair or Clinton, he only ever scraped in, but he did it consistently and that’s what mattered.

Israel is a country that functions on coalitions and Bibi was always the man who managed to form them. Critics, though, say he did it through exploitation rather than consensus.

Ehud Olmert was Netanyahu’s predecessor as prime minister. The two men were once in the same party, Likud. But as it tacked to the right, Olmert remained a centrist.

Mr Olmert told Sky News: “We never we were never friends. I never liked him. I never felt close to him. I never felt that he is a genuine human being [but] I thought it was a highly talented performer, the greatest that I’ve met in modern politics… He’s a genius. I mean, there there will be no one that can compete with him in on television. Laurence Olivier?”

He continued: “He’s a great performer, but when you look at the substance of things, the divisions within the Israeli society today are greater than ever before.”

Ehud Olmert, Netanyahu's predecessor as prime minister, said 'we were never friends' but Netanyahu is 'a genius'
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Ehud Olmert, Netanyahu’s predecessor as prime minister, said ‘we were never friends’ but Netanyahu is ‘a genius’

Pfeffer agreed: “Netanyahu is the most divisive prime minister in history, he has exploited every divide in Israeli society between Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, left and right.

“All these all these divides have been exploited and the communities have been played off against each other to keep him in power. That’s something that Israeli society will be paying the price for for years to come.”

Danny Danon has been a close confidant of Netanyahu for decades. He is a former Likud party politician and a nationalist who doesn’t believe in a two-state solution with the Palestinians. Until last year he was Netanyahu’s ambassador to the United Nations.

He told Sky News: “Many Israelis were born knowing only Netanyahu as the prime minister of Israel.

“He is one of the greatest leaders in Israel’s history and his dedication to our security, I think that the most important thing in his legacy.”

Under Netanyahu, Israel enjoyed the longest period of economic growth in its history; an achievement only damaged by the coronavirus pandemic which ‘the magician’ managed still to turn to his advantage. From the beginning he was the consummate communicator.

Describing his early political years, Pfeffer, author of Bibi: The Turbulent Life & Times of Benjamin Netanyahu, said: “He had literally sat at home over weekends with a rented video camera and trained himself how to do sound bites, how to do have strong, strong interviews on television.

“And when he came along in the late 1980s, he literally blew everyone away and he’s kept that advantage ever since.”

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The lights have gone out on Netanyahu’s tenure as Israel’s prime minister

Bibi the peacemaker?

Despite his persona as a tough-man, the former captain in the Israeli special forces actually presided over a period of relative calm, in Israeli terms.

He has been risk-averse while building up the nation’s defences and moulding a stalemate with the Palestinians precisely because it played to his advantage.

Pfeffer said: “He has this warmongering image which he which he builds up himself, but he never pushed the button and he never launched the big attack on Iran… He didn’t launch another war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, as his predecessors did. So all these things have been talked about, but never actually happened. He’s been risk averse and that is to his credit.”

But it was all to the detriment of the Palestinian people. Netanyahu’s politics, combined with splits and failures in the Palestinians’ own leadership, have stalled the peace process.

Olmert believes the impact of this failure on the reputation of the Jewish State is huge: “The lack of political solution for the Palestinian issue is the greatest threat to the status of the State of Israel. We need to separate from the Palestinians. We need to end the occupation. We can’t be seen in the international community as occupiers because this will destroy the image of Israel, the status of Israel.”

The latest round of fighting in Gaza hinted at a consequence of the stalemate. The Palestinian cause seemed more united than ever before, but it was a street-level unity. The politicians on all sides remain intransigent.

Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi said Netanyahu's legacy was 'one of the most, if not the most destructive legacy for Israel, for the whole region'
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Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi said Netanyahu’s legacy was ‘one of the most, if not the most destructive legacy for Israel, for the whole region’

Hanan Ashrawi, a central figure over decades in the quest for Palestinian statehood has a scathing assessment of Netanyahu’s legacy.

She told Sky News: “I think Netanyahu’s legacy has been one of the most, if not the most destructive legacy for Israel, for the whole region, and I think in many ways, by legitimising fascism and violence and manipulation and control as well as corruption, he has created a situation where the chances of peace have become all that more difficult, if not impossible.”

Confronting Iran

After 12 years in power, Netanyahu as been central in reminding western nations of what he sees as the malign behaviour of Iran. Yet in that time, Iran has come closer and closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon. Mr Danon doesn’t see this as a failure.

He told me: “I think the fact that he put Iran on the spotlight in the last decade and everybody today sees the real threat coming from Tehran… maybe some people see different ways to deal with the threat, but he exposed it and he mobilised our intelligence agencies to bring information. And today the Iranians cannot work quietly, continue with their ideas. All the spotlights on them.”

The last few years of his premiership have been dominated by his corruption trial – three cases of fraud, bribery and breach of trust. The trial is ongoing.

Netanyahu is said to have used Trump-style tactics long before the former US president came to power
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Netanyahu is said to have used Trump-style tactics long before the former US president came to power

The legacy?

Netanyahu presided over a prolonged period of peace within Israel, but even that was in doubt with recent sectarian violence between Arabs and Jews which he did nothing to calm.

He signed unprecedented and laudable diplomatic normalisation deals with Gulf Arab nations, but on that core issue which defines the land he’s ruled for so long, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, something which many Israelis seem oddly oblivious to, there are no solutions.

Netanyahu failed to bring about a lasting peace and chose instead the status quo which works for Israelis but does not for the Palestinians.

In his final interview before he died in 2016, former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres was asked if he still thought there was a chance for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

He said: “I don’t think there [is] another alternative. Neither for the Palestinians, nor for us. The only alternative is an ongoing war. But contrary to what people think, in war there are no victories, only victims. No war is ever finished unless its being replaced by peace.”

Netanyahu and his supporters will claim he achieved many victories. But he did not replace war with peace.

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Tokyo Olympics medal table, results and schedule | UK News

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Team GB won 67 medals at the Rio Olympics in 2016 – including 27 golds. Follow progress at Tokyo with the table below.

See results for all sports by tapping on the table below and selecting the competition you are interested in:

Check out what is happening day by day, by tapping on the dates in the calendar below:

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Esther Dingley: Missing British hiker’s dental records being sent to France after ‘human bones’ found | World News

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The dental records of missing British hiker Esther Dingley are being sent to French authorities following the discovery of possible human remains in the Pyrenees.

Ms Dingley, 37, was last seen walking alone in the mountains near the French-Spanish border on 22 November last year.

She was due to return from a three-day solo trek and travel home to the UK with her partner Dan Colegate but never returned.

Her mother Ria Byrant, 74, told The Sunday Times that French police have requested her daughter’s dental records after local police announced on Friday that they may have discovered human remains near her last known location.

“The dentist is sending a scan of Esther’s teeth. We have to send it to the consulate in Bordeaux,” she told the newspaper.

Ms Dingley had been travelling since 2014. Pic: LBT Global
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Ms Dingley had been travelling since 2014. Pic: LBT Global

Ms Bryant moved to the Pyrenees in June to help look for her daughter.

She was planning to return to Britain this month, but told the paper she has changed her plans following the developments.

Charity LBT Global, which supports the families of missing people, previously said it was “aware of the discovery of what may be human remains close to the last known location of Esther Dingley”.

“The family have been informed of the discovery and we are supporting them now,” it wrote in a statement.

French police chief Jean Marc Bordinaro was quoted as saying: “We cannot say anything at the moment because the discovery of the bones is too recent and they must be properly analysed.”

Earlier this year Ms Dingley’s partner revealed authorities were “looking at options beyond a mountain accident“.

They had been travelling around Europe in a campervan together since 2014.

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Climate change: The Arctic reindeer herder whose livelihood is threatened by warmer winters | UK News

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Slava Kemlil is waiting for us on the dock in the Arctic town of Chersky.  

He’s been there applying for government grants but it is not where he feels at home. Home is in the tundra with his reindeer. “You can relax there,” he says. “You can breathe the fresh air. In the settlement there are four walls and a lot of paperwork.”

Kemlil belongs to the Chukchi nation from Chukotka in the Russian Far East. They are an Arctic people and roughly divide in terms of traditional livelihoods between reindeer herding chukchis and sea chukchis who fish. Kemlil is of the first order but as proficient at sea as the second, guiding our boat deftly past shallow sand banks to dock at the small camp on the shore of the Kolyma river where his team are waiting.

They’re a group of nine, some of them experienced reindeer herders, the rest teenagers on summer placement sent by the local employment centre.

Kemlil has said it is 'in the blood' of his people to survive in adverse conditions
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Kemlil has said it is ‘in the blood’ of his people to survive in adverse conditions

It’s a tough job. Shifts are 12 hours long, two herders at a time. Temperatures can drop to -55C (-67F) in winter and reach 30C (80F) in summer when mosquitoes keep the herd constantly on the move.

“It is in our blood since the dawn of time to be able to survive in such conditions,” Kemlil says.

It is a way of life bound to nature’s pulse. Kemlil lists the ways in which he has noticed changes to the tundra environment since he was young, shifts he attributes in part to man-made climate change. New lakes appearing or disappearing as the permafrost thaws, forcing the reindeer to adopt new migratory routes; less fish in the rivers; fawning season starting 10-15 days earlier with the earlier spring.

Then he backtracks slightly. “The old people used to say that it happened before. Sometimes it gets colder, then it gets warmer. That’s the course of nature.”

The Chukchi people are indigenous to Russia's Far East
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The Chukchi people are indigenous to Russia’s Far East

Warmer winters though have their drawbacks. More frequent rain and intermittent thaws mean icy crusts form on the snow which damage the reindeer’s hooves and muzzles as they forage for food. Kemlil has had to cull large numbers as a result. Lame animals would slow the herd.

“When such periods come the reindeer lose their fat, they waste all their energy on hoofing the snow. Sometimes you can hear them from far away, it sounds as if they are stomping ice or something very hard. So you have to inspect the routes very carefully to find the soft snow.”

The worst incident this year was when a pack of forty wolves attacked the herd, encircling 100 reindeer and separating them from the rest. That was the last the herders saw of them.

But climate change is bringing larger predators closer too.

The reindeers' hooves have been damaged by icy crusts as they forage food
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The reindeers’ hooves have been damaged by icy crusts as they forage food
Kemlil has seen the landscape of the tundra change since his childhood
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Temperatures can drop as low as -55C in winter

Shrinking sea ice means polar bears are coming to the Russian mainland especially around Chukotka in search of food.

Two summers of Arctic wildfires have driven brown bears closer and they are difficult to spot, especially at night. “It’s getting harder,” Kemlil says.

The teenagers are incredibly polite. They keep the kettle filled and the tea coming and wait for permission to start eating. They are smiley and enthusiastic. They seem to be enjoying life on the tundra.

Katya Protoppopova is the only girl in the group. Her mother is Chukchi and grew up on the tundra, her father is Russian.

“I came here to earn money to buy a ticket for myself and go study. I might come back next summer as I like it but I don’t have plans to stay.”

She and some of the other teenagers film us on their phones as we interview Kemlil. It seems a strange juxtaposition against the backdrop of the tundra, so far from reception or any other hints of modernity but clearly no self-respecting teen would be without their phone.

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“The world is being widely computerised and it is very difficult to live in this world, especially for the young people”, Kemlil sighs. “They can’t live without technology. We need to try to adapt to this modern world, match it step for step.”

For all the nuances of the shifts in climate and how those play out on the tundra, it is this which seems to worry him most, the eternal question of how to make the young stay.

“From times immemorial our forefathers were breeding reindeer and we try to keep this industry going to make sure it doesn’t disappear in our modern world. The young ones are not quite willing but we do our best.”

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