Israel Gives Vaccine to Far-Off Allies, as Palestinians Wait

JERUSALEM - The Israeli government has pledged to send thousands of replacement vaccines against coronavirus to foreign allies to rekindle a debate on Israel's responsibility to people nearby: Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
On Tuesday, the governments of the Czech Republic and Honduras confirmed that Israel had promised them 5,000 doses of vaccine made by Moderna each. The Israeli news media reported that a similar number would be sent to Hungary and Guatemala, but the Hungarian and Israeli governments declined to comment, while the Guatemalan government did not respond to a request for comment.
The donations are the latest example of a new expression of soft power: vaccine diplomacy, in which vaccine-rich countries seek to reward or influence those who have little access to them.
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Jockeying for influence in Asia, China and India has donated thousands of doses of vaccine to their neighbors. The United Arab Emirates have done the same for allies like Egypt. And last week, Israel even promised to buy tens of thousands of cans on behalf of the Syrian government, a longtime enemy, in exchange for the return of an Israeli civilian imprisoned in Syria.
The vaccines allocated on Tuesday were given unconditionally, but they tacitly reward recent gestures by host countries implicitly accepting Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, which both Israelis and Palestinians consider as their capital. Guatemala has moved its embassy to Jerusalem, while Honduras has committed to it. Hungary has set up a trade mission in Jerusalem, while the Czech Republic has promised to open a diplomatic office there.
Israel has given at least one two-dose shot of the Pfizer-made vaccine to just over half of its 9 million residents - including people living in Jewish settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories - making it the world leader in vaccine adoption . This will enable the Israeli government to strengthen its international relations with the oversupply of Moderna vaccines.
But the move has angered the Palestinians because it suggests that Israel's allies have a higher priority than the Palestinians, who live in the occupied territories under Israeli control and almost all of whom have not yet received a vaccine.
Israel has promised distant countries at least twice as many doses as it has promised the nearly 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Israeli government says the Palestinian Authority was given responsibility for organizing its own health care system in the 1990s following the signing of the Oslo Accords, which gave the Palestinian leadership limited autonomy in parts of the Occupied Territories.
Israel has given the Palestinian Authority 2,000 doses of vaccine and, given the size of the Palestinian population, has promised 3,000 more token numbers. And while Israel has hinted more may come, it has yet to formalize details.
"A few weeks ago there were question marks about whether we had enough vaccines for our own people," said Mark Regev, advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "Now that it looks like we can be more open to our neighbors."
Regev added: "The virus will not stop at the border and we have a very strong interest in the Palestinians being able to be beyond."
But on Tuesday evening, an Israeli security official said the military division, which coordinates between Israel and the Palestinian leadership, has not yet received government approval to deliver further vaccines to the Palestinian Authority.
In any case, human rights watchdogs say Israel should organize a systematic vaccination program in the Occupied Territories, rather than sporadically delivering a few thousand spare parts at once. You cite the Fourth Geneva Convention, which obliges an occupying power to coordinate with local authorities in order to maintain public health in an occupied area, even during epidemics.
The surveillance groups also note that the Israeli government not only controls all imports into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but also denied the Palestinian claims to sovereign statehood in recent petitions to the International Criminal Court.
"It's a system of repression," said Salem Barahmeh, executive director of the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy, a Ramallah-based advocacy group.
"It says a lot about a regime," Barahmeh added, "that it is willing to send vaccines halfway around the world, possibly in return, and not offer the vaccine to the millions of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation . " ”
This article originally appeared in the New York Times.
© 2021 The New York Times Company
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