Israel’s Health Minister has told CNN he does not believe Israel has an obligation or responsibility to supply Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza with a vaccine for the coronavirus but stressed instead co-operation on treatment to avoid a surge in new cases of Covid-19 in the Palestinian territories.
Yuli Edelstein’s comments come after the World Health Organization (WHO) said it had held informal discussions with Israel’s Health Ministry regarding the possible supply of vaccines for the Palestinian health workforce as an “immediate priority target group.”
“We are cooperating with the Palestinians to make sure that they get proper treatment to coronavirus patients. At this stage we are not supplying vaccines, but we do understand that it is in Israel’s interest to make sure we don’t get into a situation where we are vaccinated and out of trouble, and on the Palestinian side there is another surge in numbers,” Edelstein said on CNN’s New Day.
Israel is leading the world in vaccinating its people, with almost 20% of the population having received at least one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. But it has come under criticism from some human rights groups which say it has obligations under international law to provide vaccines to Palestinians as well.
Amnesty International, for instance, said last week: “The Israeli government must stop ignoring its international obligations as an occupying power and immediately act to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are equally and fairly provided to Palestinians living under its occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”
Groups like Amnesty point to the Fourth Geneva Convention which, among other duties of an occupying power, speaks of ensuring “measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.”
Israel argues that the Oslo Accords, signed with the Palestinians in the 1990s, hand responsibility for health care provision for Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The Director General of the Public Health Directorate at the Palestinian Ministry of Health told CNN the PA had not sought Israel’s assistance with vaccines, something that was contradicted by the President of the Union of Medical Relief Committees, Mustafa Barghouti, himself a leading Palestinian politician. He told CNN reports the PA had sought about 10,000 doses for health care workers were correct. Barghouti said the request had been rejected by Israel.
The WHO said it was told the Israeli Health Ministry was ready to “explore the option” of immediate vaccines for medical workers in the Palestinian territories but had been told it was “currently not in a position to supply vaccines because of a shortage of vaccines in Israel.”
Edelstein told CNN: “It is our interest; it doesn’t mean in any way it is our obligation or our responsibility. The Palestinians are running the Palestinian Authority … but as has been happening for the last several months, we were always ready to help with equipment, with good advice, with products or with medicine, and this sort of cooperation will continue.”
The Palestinian Health Ministry said Monday it had registered the Russian Sputnik V vaccine for what it called emergency use, with an initial batch expected to arrive in the territories within a month, according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which sponsored the vaccine’s development. The Health Ministry says it has also signed contracts with three other Covid-19 vaccine suppliers.