Israel has agreed to transfer 5,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine to the Palestinians to vaccinate frontline medical workers, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s office said on Sunday.
It was the first time that Israel confirmed the transfer of vaccines to the Palestinians, which is far behind Israel’s aggressive vaccination campaign and has not yet received any vaccines.
The World Health Organization has expressed concern over the differences between Israel and Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, and international human rights groups and UN experts have said Israel is responsible for Palestinian well-being in these areas. Israel says that according to interim peace agreements reached in the 1990s, it is not responsible for the Palestinians and has in any case not received requests for help.
Gantz’s office said early Sunday the transfer had been approved. It had no further details on when that would happen. There was no immediate comment from Palestinian officials.
More than 3 million received the first dose
Israel is one of the world leaders in vaccinating its population after winning contracts with international pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Moderna. The Ministry of Health says that almost a third of Israel’s 9.3 million people have received the first dose of the vaccine, while about 1.7 million people have received both doses.
The campaign includes Israeli Arab citizens and Palestinians living in annexed East Jerusalem. But Palestinians living in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority’s autonomous government and those living under Hamas rule in Gaza are not included.
The Palestinian Authority has tried to get doses through a WHO program called COVAX. But the program, which aims to provide vaccines for the countries that are needed, has slowly gone off the ground.
The dispute reflects global inequality in access to vaccines, as rich countries absorb the lion’s share of doses, leaving poorer countries even further behind to combat public health and the economic effects of the pandemic. It has also emerged as another hotspot in the decades-old Mideast conflict, although the virus has caused chaos on both sides.