x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Israel needed to ease relations with Turkey

The Israeli apology for the Mavi Marmara incident came about because Turkey is too important to Israel, an Arabic newspaper argues. Other topics today: Egypt's drug problem and Palestine's forgotten Land Day.

An Israeli delegation will be in Ankara this week to discuss compensation for the Turkish victims and families of victims of the 2010 Israeli assault on the Mavi Marmara, a vessel loaded with food supplies and other commodities that was on its way to the Gaza Strip as part of a humanitarian flotilla aiming to break the Israeli blockade on more than one million Gazans.

The visit comes after the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, apologised to his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the telephone, prompting a thaw in bilateral relations after a three-year freeze.

Nine Turks were killed and many others were injured in the raid, in territorial waters.

Commenting on this development yesterday, the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi argued that regional turmoil, compounded by Israel's isolation in the Middle East, has forced Israel to reach out to its former ally by making such an "uncharacteristic" admission of guilt.

"Israelis want to normalise relations with Turkey as soon as possible and make sure that previous communications channels are fully reopened, which is the real reason why they are sending a this delegation to Ankara," the newspaper said. "Discussing compensation packages is, in a way, just the pretext."

Mr Erdogan accepted Israel's "unprecedented" apology in the name of the Turkish people, but he maintained a previous demand that Israel lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip, the paper noted. "It is still unknown whether Israel's right-wing government will accept this condition."

Despite repeated denials from the Turkish government, this rapprochement has evidently been "dictated by the serious developments on the Syrian front" and by "the Israeli leadership's enormous anxiety" as jihadist groups consolidate their control in Syrian territories now beyond the reach of the government.

The United States has also played a key role in making this detente possible, Al Quds Al Arabi said.

"The US administration has effectively brokered this rapprochement, through intensive talks with the two parties led by John Kerry, the US secretary of state. The mission was then completed by President Barack Obama, who - [on his visit to Israel this month] - put pressure on Mr Netanyahu to make the call.

"The US administration wants to see Turkey and Israel coordinate on the security, and possibly military, issues resulting from the Syrian crisis and Iran's nuclear programme", the paper said.

It is still unclear whether Turkey is interested in playing this game, the newspaper noted. "What is certain, though, is that the Turkish government is treading carefully … with its officials now reiterating that 'reconciliation' with Israel has nothing to do with the Syrian and Iranian issues," the paper said in conclusion.

Now Egypt is facing a drug problem, too

As if Egypt didn't have enough to worry about, now there is a proliferation of cheap psychotropic drugs at a time when the influence of police forces is declining, columnist Mazen Hammad wrote in yesterday's edition of the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.

"No one denies that the levels of drug use have been an issue in Egypt over the past decades, but what is going on today is something completely different," the columnist said.

Poor economic performance and a deep political rift between the supporters of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and the backers of the liberal Salvation Front are overshadowing the "disastrous phenomenon of drug addiction", which is raging in Egyptian society at this watershed moment in the country's history, he noted.

Drug dealers are taking advantage of the population's low morale and the diminishing presence of police forces in the public space to churn out larger quantities of psychotropic tablets at cheaper prices, the writer said. And this is happening in broad daylight.

"These drugs are now being sold in the open, and not just to young adults, but also to children under 15."

To judge by a recent candid report from Egypt's national anti-drugs council, the writer concluded, the government is clearly conscious of the proportions of the issue, but action is not yet bearing fruit.


Who remembers Palestine's Land Day?

On March 30, 1976, the Palestinian inhabitants of three small Arab towns that had been occupied in 1948 organised protests and strikes against an Israeli decision to confiscate some of their land to be annexed to Israeli territories, columnist Amjad Arar commented yesterday in the UAE newspaper Al Khaleej.

Six Palestinians were killed by Israeli bullets during the protests, turning that bloody day into an annual commemoration of the Palestinian people's struggle for their right to their own land, the writer said.

Yet, that symbolic day, renamed by the UN as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, is now as good as forgotten, he wrote in a column titled Land Day, Oblivion Day.

In the 37 years since those six Palestinians were killed, Israeli governments have implanted more Jewish settlers to nibble away at what is supposed one day to become the Palestinian state.

"Land Day is here, but the Palestinians alone seem to still remember it. The day is no longer commemorated by Arabs, Muslims or anybody around the world, for that matter," he said.

"And the worst thing that could happen to the Palestinian cause now would be for Arab officialdom to stop acting, not out of helplessness, but out of indifference."

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi