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Media Summary

UAE to grant citizenship to foreign residents

The BBC reports that Israel will transfer 5,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to immunise frontline Palestinian health workers. Israel says that is not part of agreed protocols and it has not received any requests from the Palestinians. This is its first such transfer. The report looks at the question of whose responsibility is it to vaccinate the Palestinians. UN experts say the Geneva Convention on occupied territories takes priority over the Oslo Accords and it is Israel’s responsibility to provide equitable access to vaccines for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. But international law experts disagree on this.

Maya Abu Al-Hayat writes an opinion piece in The Guardian in which she argues that Israel is responsible for the healthcare of the Palestinians.

The UAE says it will grant citizenship to foreign residents for the first time, providing they add value to the Gulf state, according to the BBC and The Times. UAE Vice-President and Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum said those eligible would include investors, specialised talents, doctors, engineers and artists. The UAE government added that the reforms were aimed at “attracting more bright minds to the Emirati community”, which includes popular expatriate destinations such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai. There is no application procedure; instead individuals would be nominated for citizenship by UAE royals or officials. The UAE cabinet would then decide whether or not to approve them.  

The Times reports that an Israeli institute has angered Polish Jews and museums after claiming that it had a trove of archaeological finds that appear to have been taken from the former Warsaw Ghetto. Ten sets of 100-year-old phylacteries, pairs of small leather boxes containing verses from the Torah, were said to have been discovered in the district. Israel Hayom, a popular newspaper, claimed that the Shem Olam Institute in Israel worked secretly with the workers to hide them from Polish officials.

The Independent leads with the images from Jerusalem yesterday as thousands of ultra-Orthodox citizens flouted the lockdown restrictions and gathered for funerals of two rabbis, who died from complications emerging from COVID-19.

Israel is deploying an elite unit of Arabic and Persian social media influencers to build friendships with Muslim countries and warn them about the threat posed by Iran, says The Telegraph. The digital bunker, based inside the government’s foreign affairs headquarters, is staffed by a team of young polyglots who have built up millions of followers on social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The Guardian covers new studies in Israel that show tentative optimism on the effectiveness of vaccines in curbing the coronavirus pandemic. Initial data suggests the early stages of inoculation campaigns might have marked decreases in both hospital cases and infections. One domestic healthcare provider, Maccabi Healthcare Services, has revealed that out of 163,000 Israelis given both shots of the Pfizer vaccine, only 31 were infected, compared with nearly 6,500 infections among a control group of unvaccinated people.

Two British fighter jets have wiped out two cells of ISIS fighters in northern Iraq, as military operations against the terrorist group intensified in retaliation for a deadly suicide bombing in Baghdad. A statement from the Ministry of Defence, reported in The Times, revealed that two RAF Typhoon FGR4s used laser-guided bombs to kill terrorists who were hiding in caves.

Two leading Saudi and Iranians have called for their governments to seize the new opportunity presented by the Joe Biden Presidency to begin a new relationship, in an article posted by The Guardian. The proposal by Abdulaziz Sager, the Saudi Arabian chairman and founder of the Gulf Research Center, and Hossein Mousavian, a former senior Iranian diplomat and now a nuclear specialist based at Princeton University, is the fruit of a backchannel initiative that has been under way privately for months.

The Israel media focuses on two funerals that were held in Jerusalem yesterday which drew thousands of ultra-Orthodox mourners in violation of lockdown restrictions. The police refrained from trying to prevent people from making their way to the funerals, drawing irate reactions from other parts of Israeli society. Sima Kadmon writes in Yediot Ahronot about yesterday’s contrast between the cabinet meeting to extend the third lockdown and the funerals in Jerusalem: “The cabinet was being convened to vote in favour of another week in which businesses are to be shut down, schools will be closed and in which you are to be prohibited from straying more than a single kilometre from your home. You’ll be prohibited from going to the beach to work out and you’ll be prohibited from taking your kids out on a hike in nature or to visit their grandparents… while tens of thousands of people attended the funeral procession for a rabbi who died of the coronavirus — without masks, without social distancing and in utter violation of all the lockdown directives — you were climbing the walls in the third (and a half) lockdown that has been forced on you.”

Professor Yedidia Stern writes in Yediot Ahronot: “Israeli society has been riding the back of a tiger for a long time. Many people tried to tame it and formulated judicious and worthy proposals — accommodations for them in the army, in higher education, in the workforce, and more. There was no intent to meddle in the ultra-Orthodox way of life, but to open doors and to lower ropes to them to enable them to maintain a partnership of fraternity with the rest of the Israelis, despite the disagreements. But the current impotence of the sovereign toward the reckless rampaging of the tiger has taught the tiger a dangerous lesson, a lesson about its supposedly limitless power… public anger with the Haredim will [may] be channelled toward their current benefactor — the prime minister. Many voters on the right and on the left, are liable to collect the bill owed by the Haredim by giving their vote in another few weeks to someone who raises the populist banner of ultra–Orthodox hatred.”

Maariv covers last night’s speech by head of the Israelis Party, Ron Huldai, in which he called on all leaders of the left-wing parties to unite into “one party, or at most two” in the run-up to the upcoming elections. Huldai said that “with common sense we will reach agreements. The risk of a split run by parties that could fall below the blocking percentage is enormous and must not be taken.” Huldai’s call came after his number two, former Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn unexpectedly decided to quit the party and retire. Nissenkorn, a key figure in the Blue and White party had left to join Huldai’s Knesset bid. The Israelis party started off strong but has since dipped in the polls, with some projecting it will now merge with the Labor Party.

A new poll by Channel 12 News finds that a merger between the Israeli Party and Labor would result in 7 seats. The Likud remains the largest party on 30 seats, followed by Yesh Atid 16, New Hope 14, Yamina 13, Joint List 10, Shas 8, UTJ 8, Yisrael Beiteinu 6, Blue and White 4 and Meretz 4.

Israel Hayom reports that the Qatari government has agreed to provide $360 million in financial assistance for the Gaza Strip during 2021, renewing a programme that has helped reduce hostilities between Israel and Hamas. The report notes that the decision to renew the aid comes as Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are trying to hold new elections in the Palestinian territories. The vote is meant as a key step toward reconciliation.

Kan Radio News notes that Israel and Kosovo will formally establish diplomatic relations today. An online ceremony that will be held in both countries’ foreign ministries will also be attended by the American envoy to the Balkan states and the charge d’affairs of the US embassy in Jerusalem. The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that the Kosovo embassy in Jerusalem would open by March.

Yediot Ahronot covers comments made by head of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, who reportedly described IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi’s speech last week at the INSS conference as “irresponsible”. Kochavi denounced US President Joe Biden’s stated intentions to re-join the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal as “bad” and said he had ordered the military to develop fresh operational plans for striking Iran’s nuclear programme. Cohen criticised Kochavi for having come out publicly against the US government and argued that the top military officer should have waited to see how the new administration approaches the issue, according to Army Radio.