Palestinians cancel million-dose vaccine exchange with Israel
JERUSALEM – The Palestinian Authority has canceled a deal where Israel would transfer 1 million doses of coronavirus vaccine to it in exchange for a similar number later this year, hours after the deal was announced on Friday.
The Palestinians have said the doses, which Israel has started shipping to the occupied West Bank, are too close to expiring and fall short of their standards. In announcing the deal, Israel said the vaccines “will expire soon” without specifying a date.
Palestinian officials have come under heavy criticism on social media after the deal was announced, with many accusing them of accepting substandard vaccines and suggesting they may not be effective.
There was no immediate comment from Israel, which had largely closed for the weekly Sabbath.
Israel announced Friday that it would transfer around 1 million doses of the soon-to-expire coronavirus vaccine to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for a similar number of doses the Palestinians expect to receive later this year.
Israel, which has fully reopened after immunizing some 85% of its adult population, has been criticized for not sharing its vaccines with the 4.5 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
The disparity has manifested itself around the world as the bulk of vaccines have gone to wealthy countries. As these countries have made strides in containing their own epidemics, they have recently started committing to providing supplies to poorer countries that have been left behind for months.
Israel’s new government, which was sworn in on Sunday, said it would transfer Pfizer vaccines that are about to expire, and that the PA would reimburse it with a similar number of vaccines when it receives them from the country. pharmaceutical company in September or October. . Up to 1.4 million doses could be traded, the Israeli government said in a statement.
“We will continue to find effective ways to cooperate for the benefit of the people of the region,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tweeted after the announcement of the deal.
COGAT, the Israeli military body that coordinates civil affairs in the occupied territories, said it coordinated the delivery of the first 100,000 doses to the West Bank on Friday.
The Palestinians presented the deal differently, saying Pfizer had suggested the transfer as a way to speed up its delivery of 4 million doses the PA had already paid for in a deal made directly with the drug company.
“This is not an agreement with Israel, but with the Pfizer company,” Palestinian Health Minister Mai Alkaila said on Friday, before the agreement was canceled.
At a press conference on Friday night, she said health officials who inspected the vaccines found that they “did not meet standards and so we decided to return them.”
Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has ordered the cancellation of the deal and the return of vaccines to Israel, his spokesperson said. Ibrahim Milhim said the Palestinians would not accept Israel’s “about to expire” vaccines, citing the official Israeli statement.
Israel has implemented one of the most successful vaccination programs in the world, allowing it to completely reopen businesses and schools. This week, authorities lifted the requirement to wear masks in public, one of the last remaining restrictions.
Rights groups have said that Israel, as the occupying power, is obliged to provide vaccines to Palestinians. Israel denies having such an obligation, pointing to the interim peace agreements reached with the Palestinians in the 1990s.
These agreements state that the Palestinian Authority, which has limited autonomy in parts of the occupied West Bank, is responsible for health care, but that the two sides must cooperate to fight pandemics. Israel has offered vaccines to more than 100,000 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank who work inside Israel, as well as to Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
Gaza is ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and Western countries. Israeli officials have suggested that any supply of vaccines to Gaza be tied to the return of two Israeli captives and the remains of two soldiers held by Hamas.
The Palestinian Authority said it was purchasing its own supplies through deals with private companies and a World Health Organization program designed to help countries in need.
To date, around 380,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and around 50,000 in Gaza have been vaccinated. More than 300,000 contaminations have been recorded in the two territories, including 3,545 deaths.
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in the Middle East War of 1967. The Palestinians want a state in the three territories. There have been no substantive peace talks for over a decade.
Associated Press editors Fares Akram in Cairo and Areej Hazboun in Jerusalem contributed to this report.