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Media Summary

Turkey and Greece to begin talks over Aegean sea after five-year hiatus

The BBC and The Telegraph lead with Israel’s vaccination drive as the country has begun vaccinating 16 to 18-year-olds against COVID-19 in an effort to enable them to take exams. The exams play an important role in deciding where students will go to university. Their results can also affect their placement in the military, where many young Israelis do compulsory service. More than a quarter of Israel’s population of nine million have received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine since 19 December, its health ministry says.

The Independent reports on the interview given by Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on The Andrew Marr show yesterday. The report focuses on Edelstein’s comments that it is not the country’s job to provide the coronavirus vaccine to Palestinians living in occupied territories, despite calls from the UN to do so. “But having said that, I do remember that it is our interest – not our legal obligation, but our interest – to make sure Palestinians get the vaccine, that we don’t have COVID-19 spreading,” he added.

The Financial Times publishes a long report on how Abu Dhabi’s royal family is at the nexus of the UAE’s business and national security ties. The article says: “The blurring of lines between the state and royal interests has long been a characteristic of Gulf states. But it has become more pronounced, particularly in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, at a time when leaders of the two countries have become more autocratic, security conscious and determined to develop new sectors, often related to technological advances.”

The Guardian publishes an interactive map on how the 10-year old ‘Arab Spring’ grew to engulf the Middle East, shake authoritarian governments and unleash consequences that still shape the world a decade later.

The Times reports that Turkey and Greece will resume talks on their long-running dispute in the Aegean today after a break of nearly five years. Turkish President Erdogan has signalled that he wants to heal Turkey’s rifts with Europe and the US, but his dispute with Greece over sea borders in the Aegean is unlikely to be resolved quickly and could still bring EU sanctions down on Ankara.

The BBC and The Guardian report on the state of Egypt’s democracy 10 years since protesters took to the streets to unseat their longest-serving President, Hosni Mubarak. Their uprising was part of a movement of pro-democracy protests in the Arab world to end autocratic rule. Although Mubarak left power, many believe the dreams of a democratic Egypt, have yet to be achieved.

The Telegraph focuses on several diplomatic developments yesterday regarding Israel. The UAE has announced the establishment of its embassy in Tel Aviv. Israel’s government voted to upgrade the current deal with Morocco and also establish diplomatic relations. And finally, US national security advisor announced that America hopes to build “on the success of Israel’s normalisation agreements” under the Biden administration.

The Sunday Times ran an article on the new Israeli Labor Leader, Merav Michaeli. In an interview last week, Michaeli described the party’s situation as “terrible and sad”, predicting that, even after she won yesterday’s leadership election, the entrenched old guard will still not want her.

The Financial Times reports that millions of Iranians have been pushed into extreme poverty over the past year, adding to pressure on the regime in an Iranian election year to resume talks on the nuclear deal with new US president Joe Biden.

Reuters notes that a former Australian school principal accused of sexually assaulting students was extradited to Australia on Monday under an order from Israel’s Supreme Court. Malka Leifer had fought her return to Australia, including with a submission of mental illness, and the case has been in Israeli courts since 2014.

The Israeli media focus on the violent protests in ultra-Orthodox cities and neighbourhoods across Israel last night in response to a combination of the lockdown measures, on the one hand, and increasingly resolute enforcement efforts by the police, on the other. Maariv reports that police officers were attacked by ultra-Orthodox protesters in Bnei Brak, Ashdod, Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh. Demonstrators in Bnei Brak attacked a bus driver and its passengers before setting fire to it, which damaged power lines. Rioters forced Mayor Avraham Rubinstein to flee when he came to talk to them. They jeered him and banged on his car and he turned around and left. Earlier, the mayor called on the police to withdraw its forces from the city and to let him and the public leaders calm tempers. Severe violent attacks were also recorded last night in Jerusalem. A group of demonstrators poured concrete onto the light rail tracks at the Shivtei Yisrael station. The Citypass company said that had the concrete set, the train could have gone off the rails and overturned. The rioters also smashed the glass partitions at the station and spray-painted black paint on the windows of one of the train cars and threw sticky material on it. They also threw stones at cars and vandalised a bus stop and traffic lights. The police dispersed them and arrested two people.

Ma’ariv reports on the Cabinet’s decision to close Ben-Gurion airport tonight. The airport will remain closed until the end of the current lockdown on 31 January, with exceptions only for humanitarian and other cases. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday at the beginning of the cabinet meeting: “No country has done what we’re about to do. We are sealing the country hermetically. In light of the increasing number of variants, which has led to a higher infection rate with greater lethality, we are closing — without commercial flights and without anything aside from exceptional cases.” Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri opposed the closure. Deri said to Netanyahu: “You’ll listen to opinions that you disagree with as well. You’ll learn to listen. We need to allow Israelis in, to send them to a hotel quarantine, but we can’t prevent them from returning home.”

According to Health Ministry data, 57 people died from COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing the total number of people who have died since the pandemic broke out to 4,419. Yesterday 3,005 people tested positive for COVID-19. There are 1,150 people hospitalised in serious condition, of whom 333 are on ventilators. Kan Radio News reports that Netanyahu is considering leaving in place some of the restrictions next month for fear that the British COVID-19 mutation may become the main source of infection. A meeting to discuss the exit strategy from the lockdown is expected to be held later this week.

The Israeli media also reacts to the financial package presented by Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yisrael Katz last night. The nine-point plan involves a proposed stipend of NIS 750 ($230) for all Israeli adults, NIS 500 ($153) for every child, up to four children per family, and NIS 300 for every child beyond the fourth. Other proposals included incentivising businesses to bring back long-term furloughed workers, providing financial aid to firms whose income has been hit by pandemic, a stipend for the disabled, delaying loan repayments, and providing unemployment benefits to all self-employed workers, among other measures. The plan has little chance of being implemented without support from the cabinet and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

Yediot Ahronot publishes a commentary piece on the financial package. Sever Plocker argues that what was presented last night “reeked of elections”. He said: “Only two of the nine steps in the new Bibi-Katz aid package might be worthwhile, helpful and practical. All the rest can be described as being somewhere between random shooting from the hip and an inedible election sausage that comes at a price that was not shared with the public. It is a plan that we will end up paying a high price for.” In Ma’ariv, Yehuda Sharoni also criticises the proposal, writing: “With less than two months until the elections, Netanyahu yesterday floated a trial balloon that is nothing more than a random collection of aid proposals to employers and to self-employed that is only meant to help himself get re-elected. Yet again he revived the plan to grant unemployment benefits to the self-employed, but he promised the same thing a year ago and never did anything. In fact, he did the opposite: he shot down a bill to that effect that was introduced by Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid.”

Kan Radio News also notes that Merav Michaeli was elected by an overwhelming majority to be the next Israeli Labor Party chairwoman. Michaeli won 77 per cent of the votes. In second place was Avi Shaked and in third place was Gil Beilin. Michaeli said that she would let anyone who was interested submit their candidacy for the Labor Party Knesset list.

A new poll by Channel 13 News shows that the Likud has risen by one seat and is projected to win 32 in the upcoming elections. Yesh Atid follows on 18, New Hope 14, Yamina 13, Joint List 10, UTJ 7, Shas 6, Yisrael Beiteinu 6, Meretz 5, Blue and White 4, The Israelis 4, and the Labor Party 4. The poll also suggests that Yesh Atid and The Israelis will win 24 seats if they merge, and if Tzipi Livni were to join Yesh Atid, it will win 22 seats.