Israel freezes plan to send vaccines to foreign allies | News on the coronavirus pandemic
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial plan to ship surplus coronavirus vaccines to a group of allied countries was frozen on Thursday following a legal challenge to the deal, his office said.
It was the latest twist in a saga that raised questions at home about Netanyahu’s decision-making authority, as well as his decision to help distant nations in Africa and Latin America at a time when the territories Occupied Palestinian neighbors are struggling to secure their own vaccine supplies.
The plan also illustrated how, in times of global shortage, the vaccine has become an asset that can be used for diplomatic purposes.
Netanyahu announced on Wednesday that he had personally decided to share small amounts of surplus Israeli vaccines with allied countries. He did not identify the countries, but Israeli media reported that Israel would send shipments to 19 countries with close or growing ties to Israel.
“I welcome the decision to freeze the transfer of vaccines to other countries,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Twitter. Gantz is serving in Netanyahu’s government while preparing to face him in an election next month.
Israel has experienced one of the fastest COVID-19 vaccine deployments in the world, with nearly half of the population having already received a dose.
But former centrist general Gantz said the decision to donate vaccines must be made in the “appropriate forums” and that it is not for Netanyahu to take such steps on his own.
Earlier Thursday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki called Netanyahu’s vaccine shipments abroad “political blackmail and immoral act”, accusing Israel of “exploiting the humanitarian needs of these countries.”
Israel has so far given 2,000 doses to the Palestinian Authority, claiming it is responsible for its own health system. The West Bank and Gaza are home to 5.2 million Palestinians.
The Palestinians accused Israel of ignoring its duties as an occupying power by not including the Palestinians in its vaccination program.
Israeli officials have said that under the Oslo peace accords, the Palestinian Authority’s health ministry is responsible for immunizing people in Gaza and parts of the West Bank where it has limited autonomy.
With around 32,000 doses of the vaccine on hand to date, the Palestinians this month launched limited vaccination programs in the West Bank and Gaza, starting with health workers.
While the PA expects to receive an initial shipment of COVAX within a few weeks, the program is at risk of failure, mainly due to a lack of funds.
The Palestinian territories have one of the lowest test rates in the Middle East and North Africa, the World Bank said in a report this week. The positivity rate in the West Bank is over 21%, and in Gaza 29%, indicating an uncontrolled spread of the pandemic, the World Bank said.
Two close allies of Israel have already confirmed receiving shipments before the program was suspended.
Honduras received 5,000 doses of vaccine from Israel on Thursday. A video clip of their arrival was tweeted by President Juan Orlando Hernandez with the message “Take heart, Honduras!”
The country has signaled plans to open an embassy in Jerusalem, reinforcing Israel’s claims to the city it considers its capital, but infuriating Palestinians, who claim the eastern half of the city as the capital of a future State.
Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek said Tuesday his country had received several thousand doses.
The Czech Republic is one of the strongest supporters of Israel in the European Union.
Although the Czech Republic supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it was named last month in a pre-trial ruling by the International Criminal Court as one of the countries supporting Israel’s argument that the court had no jurisdiction over war crimes in the Palestinian Territories.