The first installment of coronavirus vaccines delivered to the PA (COGAT spokesman's unit, June 18, 2021)
The first installment of coronavirus vaccines delivered to the PA (COGAT spokesman's unit, June 18, 2021)
Cartoonist Alaa' al-Laqta accuses former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of transmitting Covid-19 to the Palestinians. The Arabic reads, "Virus transmission" (Alaa' al-Laqta's Facebook page, April 7, 2021).
Mai al-Kayla, PA minister of health visits hospitals in east Jerusalem (Facebook page of the ministry of health in Ramallah, August 6, 2020).
- After two months of talks, a vaccine exchange deal was negotiated between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Israel committed to giving the PA more than a million doses of vaccines whose expiration date was approaching, and in October 2021 would receive from Pfizer the same number of doses, which had initially been earmarked for the PA. On June 18, 2021, when the first batch of doses was delivered, the PA cancelled the deal and returned the vaccines to Israel. The delivery apparently revealed the existence of the deal, causing a disagreement in the PA between PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh and Hussein al-Sheikh, minister of civilian affairs, as well as extreme criticism of the government, and leading the PA to cancel the deal the deal.
- The vaccine exchange deal fiasco was another aspect of the vicious Hamas-orchestrated anti-Israel propaganda campaign which accompanied the PA and Gaza Strip’s efforts to combat the coronavirus. The campaign was marked by racist propaganda ranging from accusing Israel of deliberately infecting Palestinians to preventing the delivery of medical equipment and vaccines. The PA and Hamas also tried to recruit states, international organizations and global public opinion to their side.
- In reality, from the moment the virus was detected, Israel, in coordination with the PA, supported the Palestinian efforts to combat the virus. Israel’s objective was to reduce the incidence of the disease and keep it from spreading throughout Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. During the first wave of Covid-19 infection Israeli-PA coordination was unprecedented. Israel filled every PA request, including hospitalizing Saeb Erekat, then secretary of the PLO’s Executive Committee, in Israel. For purposes of combatting Covid-19, Israel regarded the region as a single unit, knowing that the virus did not differentiate between the PA, Israel and the Gaza Strip. Most of the Israeli-PA activities were carried out by the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), in charge of coordinating civilian issues with the international community and the PA. In this case that included informing the public about hygiene and public health measures, tutoring PA medical teams on specific Covid-19 issues, determining entrance and exit procedures for Palestinians, delivering medical equipment and coronavirus test kits, enlisting international agencies for assistance and later, delivering vaccines and vaccinating Palestinians working in Israel and Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. It was all done knowing that according to the Oslo Accords, public health in the PA territories is the PA’s responsibility.
- The PA’s refusal to accept the vaccines from Israel echoed its refusal to accept medical equipment needed by the PA to combat the coronavirus which was sent through Israel from the UAE. It would appear that the PA’s determination to oppose Israel is greater than its concern for the health of the public in its territories.
- In any event, after a number of waves, the spread of Covid-19 in the PA seems to be waning. As of June 2021, 313,000 Palestinians had been infected and 3,550 had died.
The Coronavirus Vaccine Crisis
Delivering vaccines from Israel to the PA
- After about two months of deliberations between Israel and the PA, a vaccine exchange deal was formulated. Israel committed to delivering to the PA more than a million doses of the vaccine whose expiration date was approaching, and would receive the same number of doses initially earmarked for the PA from a delivery of Pfizer vaccines that would arrive in October 2021. That was designed to enable the PA to continue vaccinating the population without having to wait until October for vaccines. Israel had already delivered vaccines to the PA for its medical staffs and vaccinated the Palestinians working in Israel.
- According to the agreement, on June 18, 2021 Israel delivered 90,000 doses of vaccine whose expiration date was the end of June. The delivery apparently exposed the existence of the agreement. Several hours after the trucks bringing the cartons of vaccines arrived in PA, the PA announced it was reneging on the deal and returning the vaccines. PA spokesman Ibrahim Melhem and Mai al-Kayla, PA minister of health, held a press conference where they announced that PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh had cancelled the agreement with the Israeli ministry of health and was returning the vaccines which had already been delivered. The reason given was that the vaccines did not meet the specifications and conditions of the agreement, and would soon expire (Wafa, June 18, 2021). The real reason was apparently public criticism of the deal and possibly a disagreement between Muhammad Shtayyeh and Hussein al-Sheikh, responsible for civilian affairs and the PA’s contacts with Israel (QudsN, June 20, 2021).
The first installment of coronavirus vaccines delivered to the PA (COGAT spokesman’s unit, June 18, 2021)
- The cancellation of the vaccine exchange deal was widely covered by the Palestinian media, which accused the PA of lack of transparency and exposed the terms of the agreement. There were demands for an independent investigatory commission to examine the agreement; there were also demands for the government to be overthrown (Filastin al-Yawm, June 19, 2021). Political commentator Saleh al-Noemi claimed that if the reactions to the agreement had not been so negative, especially on the social networks, the PA would not have withdrawn in such an embarrassing way. Political commentator Husam Shakr, writing in Hamas’ al-Risalah, called the affair a “scandal” and strongly criticized the PA for agreeing to accept Israel’s unwanted vaccines. He said it proved the PA was “fictitious” and operated at the behest of the “occupation.” He added that anyone who tried to represent the deal as a win-win situation was deceiving his audience (al-Risalah, June 19, 2021).
- In response to the criticism the Palestinians stressed that the negotiations had been between Israel, the PA and Pfizer. Mai al-Kayla, PA minister of health, said the agreement was with Pfizer, not Israel, and that signing it was important because the PA government was under pressure to provide vaccines as soon as possible to ensure the opening of the new school year and to reopen the economy. She also claimed that during the negotiations the PA had rejected two of Israel’s conditions, one that the agreement would not be signed in the name of the “State of Palestine” and the other that the vaccines would not reach the Gaza Strip (Filastin al-Yawm, Wafa, June 18, 2021).
Right: PA government spokesman Ibrahim Melhem and minister of health Mai al-Kayla hold a press conference in Ramallah to announce the cancellation of the vaccine exchange deal with Israel (Wafa, June 18, 2018). Left: The coronavirus vaccine exchange deal… (al-Quds, June 20, 2021).
- On June 20, 2021, the ministry of health in Ramallah confirmed negotiations had been renewed with Pfizer and Israel for the receipt of the vaccines. Mai al-Kayla announced they had a direct line of communications with Israel and Pfizer to complete the deal. She was indignant at the responses and criticism of the ministry of health, adding it had been attacked by people who were uninformed and unfamiliar with the specifics of the agreement. She said that by the end of 2021 the PA expected to receive more than four million doses of the Pfizer vaccine in three installments (ministry of health in Ramallah Facebook page, June 20, 2021).
- The affair of the vaccines is another example of the anti-Israel propaganda campaign which has accompanied the PA and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip’s efforts to combat the coronavirus from the beginning of the epidemic. The PA also tried to enlist countries, international organizations and global public opinion in the campaign, which from the start has been characterized by lies, malicious defamation and anti-Semitism. Israel, and especially the Israelis in the communities in Judea and Samaria, have been accused of deliberately infecting the Palestinian people, although the first cases were brought in by Greek pilgrims in Bethlehem; of delaying the delivery of test kits, medical equipment and appliances for treating patients; and when the vaccination campaign began, of preventing or delaying the delivery of vaccines to the PA. Many senior figures in the PA also repeatedly claimed that Israel, as “an [alleged] occupying power,” was duty-bound to combat the coronavirus epidemic in the PA territories.
- At the same time, the PA accused Israel of ignoring the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, who, they claimed, had been exposed to the virus.
- Hamas also conducted a vicious smear campaign featuring open threats to attack Israel. It was based on the allegation that Israel had” destroyed the Gaza Strip public health system,” which meant they had no suitable medical equipment, which in turn meant they had no effective way to deal with the coronavirus, putting the lives of two million people in danger. Hamas, led by Yahya al-Sinwar, head of the Hamas political bureau in the Gaza Strip, also threatened that should there be a shortage of ventilators and other medical equipment, Hamas would use force against Israel and “make six million Israeli settlers stop breathing.”
A cartoon by Alaa’ al-Laqta. The Arabic reads, “The virus most dangerous to humanity…” (Palinfo Twitter account, March 15, 2021).
- It is important to remember that since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis there has been Israeli-PA coordination. PA government speaker Ibrahim Melhem reported that the PA and Israel had opened a joint situation room for coordinating the issue of Covid-19 at the highest political levels. He added that coordination at the borders and communications with the Israelis made it possible for the PA to take drastic steps to prevent the spread of the epidemic (Agence France-Presse, March 19, 2021).
- Israel also coordinated conditions with the PA for the continued work of Palestinians in Israel who were able to spend the night near their places of employment (while their sleeping conditions were criticized). Israel later vaccinated all the Palestinians working in its territory, transmitted 120 million shekels (about $37 million) to the PA from the tax revenues and enabled medical equipment to flow into the Gaza Strip through the crossings, including ventilators, test kits, masks and other PPE (See Appendix A).
Aid delivered to the PA (al-Munsaq, April 12, 2020).
 Some of the doses had an expiration date of June 30, 2021, and the rest of July 31, 2021. ↑
 Usama Qawasmeh, Fatah spokesman in Judea and Samaria, accused Israel and the settlers of spreading the coronavirus in the PA territories by infecting Palestinian facilities. ↑
 It is superfluous to point out that since Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip, the state of its public health system and the financial hardships of the local residents do not result from Israeli's policies, but rather reflect Hamas' fundamental order of priorities, the direct outcome of its ideology, based on the objective of using terrorism and violence to destroy Israel. Hamas' top priority is its military buildup, achieved at the expense of the needs of its civilians.