Israel said Sunday it would send 5,000 coronavirus vaccine shots to the Palestinian Authority to inoculate medical personnel, following global pressure to ensure Palestinians are vaccinated.
Israeli authorities have launched an aggressive campaign to vaccinate its own citizens, but the shots have not been made available to Palestinians in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six Day War.
In recent weeks, the United Nations and rights groups have piled pressure on Israel to help some 4.8 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Israeli-blockaded Gaza to access vaccines, citing the Jewish state’s obligations as an occupying power.
More than three million of Israel’s nine million people have received the first of two required jabs of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, a pace widely regarded as the world’s fastest per capita.
“I confirm we are going to send 5,000 vaccines to medical teams in the Palestinian Authority,” a spokesperson for Defence Minister Benny Gantz told AFP on Sunday.
She said they were from Israeli supplies, but declined to say whether they were Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna.
A Palestinian official, who requested anonymity, dismissed the shipment as “a symbolic move”.
It “will not help us,” the official told AFP.
The PA, based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, has announced procurement agreements with four vaccine providers, including the makers of Russia’s Sputnik V shot.
The PA has not publicly asked for Israel’s help with a mass public vaccination campaign.
But earlier this month, the Palestine Liberation Organization called on the international community to “hold Israel to account” and ensure that it provides vaccines to all Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
The UN’s new Middle East envoy, Tor Wennesland, said last week that Israel should support the Palestinian vaccination effort to help stem the pandemic and meet “Israel’s obligations under international law”.
That echoed similar calls from Human Rights Watch, which cited Israel’s responsibilities as an occupying power.
HRW highlighted unequal access to vaccines in the West Bank, where Jewish settlers are being inoculated by Israel but their Palestinians neighbours are not.
“Nothing can justify today’s reality in parts of the West Bank, where people on one side of the street are receiving vaccines, while those on the other do not, based on whether they’re Jewish or Palestinian,” said the group’s Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir.
Former senior Israeli foreign ministry official Alan Baker, who helped negotiate the Oslo Accords, said claims that Israel is obliged to vaccinate Palestinians were “false and misleading”.
He insisted the PA was responsible “for health and medical issues” for Palestinians, citing the Oslo Accords.
The PA said it expects to have sufficient doses to vaccinate 70% of the Palestinian population, in both the West Bank and Gaza, starting from mid-March.
Hamas is seen as unlikely to publicly collaborate with Israel on any vaccination effort.