Time and again Israel demonstrates its incredible capabilities at the professional level – of civil servants, the private sector and the nonprofit sector, alongside with the failure at the political level. The issue of vaccines is a prominent example. Israel is leading the world in vaccination rate, thanks to our wonderful healthcare system, which the vaccine manufacturers see as a model for testing their products, and due to the HMO’s ability to vaccinate the population at record speed. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did well to leverage these capabilities in favor of vaccinating the country’s residents. The Israeli government, on the other hand, refrains from doing the right thing, namely to help our Palestinian neighbors. Instead, Israel offers vaccines to its favorite dictators.
The latest decision to vaccinate 120,000 Palestinians working in Israel is a step in the right direction, but all Palestinians should be our top priority for all the good reasons – moral, medical, as well as strategic.
From a moral point of view, there is no doubt that we have a responsibility and there is no point in quibbling about unnecessary legal disputes. According to the Israeli government, we have no responsibility for the Palestinians due to the transfer of responsibility for health to the Palestinian Authority in the Oslo Accords. There is a great deal of irony in the fact that the Israeli right-wing camp is suddenly presenting the Oslo Accords at the forefront of its arguments, after years of defaming the agreement, a defamation that even led to the assassination of prime minister Rabin. In addition, it is ironic that the argument about the International Criminal Court having no ruling authority on the Palestinian Authority is 180 degrees opposite to the argument on health, where we hold that this is not a legal entity under international law.
It is important to remember that the Oslo Accords were supposed to lead to a five-year process, at the end of which the temporary state of occupation made possible by international law would end. In reality, not only does the occupation continue, the Israeli government’s policy of promoting settlements and putting demographic pressure on the Palestinian population does not lead to an end to the occupation, but rather to its perpetuation. In addition, we have full control over the mobility of the Palestinians, and even over the population register of their residents. At the bottom line, we definitely have a moral responsibility to their health, as long as they do not have full control and independence as we do.
From a medical viewpoint, we and they are not really separate. Netanyahu was right when he said in an interview with Udi Segal (on Israeli TV Channel 13), that in this context, we are not an island state like Cyprus, New Zealand or Taiwan; but at the same time, Netanyahu misled the public by claiming that the Palestinians were the ones who infected us. The data show that the Palestinian morbidity was caused by contact with Israelis, by contacts that occurred due to political decisions regarding illness-laden flights from New York, Dubai and more.
As we know, Palestinians cannot fly abroad or cross into Jordan without our permission. That is, we could be an island state if we treated the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean as one epidemiological unit, to which uncontrolled entrances should be prevented and all Israelis and Palestinians alike should be vaccinated.
Strategically, the use of vaccines as a lever, in order to improve Israel’s reputation is correct, but we could, with the help of vaccine diplomacy, promote relations with the Palestinians who have invaluable importance to our security and to our future far more so than the residents of Honduras, Guatemala, Hungary, or the Czech Republic to whom Israel offered vaccines. We could also coordinate aid to the Palestinians with the World Health Organization, with the new Biden administration, and with key European countries, which are very rightly concerned about the humanitarian situation of the Palestinians, as very prominently having been raised at the recent AHLC meeting.
We could become an example and role model for the strategic use of vaccine diplomacy. But instead, our government is trying its best to use the vaccines as a political gimmick, which does not have a diplomatic effect on anyone in the world, because its cynicism is transparent and clear.
Countries around the globe are adapting to a change in the leadership of the free world following the recent US elections. Even in our region – the Palestinians are working to promote elections. The Saudis, Egyptians, Turks are changing behavior because they understand that there is a new administration in Washington, for which civil rights and democracy matter.
Only the Israeli government mourns about Trump’s departure, and continues to act as if the world is still led by an inhumane narcissist who has irresponsibly left the World Health Organization in the midst of a global epidemic that cries out for global cooperation.
It is still not too late to correct and leverage the advantage we have in the field of vaccines, in order to do the right thing morally, medically and diplomatically, and to benefit ourselves through aid to the Palestinians.
**The article was published on The Jerusalem Post, 10 March 2021.