Blinken asks for Israeli help to facilitate Palestinian COVID vaccines

Secretary of State Tony Blinken asked his Israeli counterpart on his phone call on Monday for Israel to facilitate the transfer of COVID-19 vaccines to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli officials said.

Driving the news: On Tuesday, the Israeli prime minister’s office announced that Israel has decided to send a “symbolic amount” of vaccines to the Palestinian Authority and several countries that have asked for help.

  • The prime minister’s office said the Palestinians would receive several thousand doses of vaccines for medical teams.
  • A similar number of doses will be given to several other countries like Honduras, which has sent a plane to collect vaccines. The vaccines will be taken from a supply of 100,000 doses of Moderna that Israel has bought but has not yet used.

Why does it matter: Israel has increased its assistance to Palestinians at COVID-19 in recent weeks, after facing criticism in the international media.

  • Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said in a Zoom speech at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday that Israel refused to give vaccines to Palestinians or even allow shipments vaccines from abroad enter the West Bank and Gaza.
  • Israel claims that this criticism is false and politically motivated.

The big picture: The Biden government is looking to improve the situation in the West Bank and Gaza and to gradually build trust between Israelis and Palestinians. Biden government officials believe that fighting COVID-19 could be a basis for positive cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians.

Driving the news: Blinken and Ashkenazi discussed Iran and other regional issues in their phone call, but COVID-19’s cooperation with the Palestinians was raised by the Secretary of State as a specific action item.

  • Israeli officials told me that Ashkenazi emphasized to Blinken that Israel is the country that has vaccinated the largest number of Palestinians in the world so far, pointing to 300,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem receiving health services from Israel.
  • Ashkenazi told Blinken that Israel gave a few hundred doses of vaccines to Palestinians from its national supply, allowed a consignment of Sputnik V vaccines from Russia to enter the West Bank and allowed part of that consignment to enter Gaza. Ashkenazi told Blinken that Israel is also considering vaccinating some 75,000 Palestinians working in Israel.
  • State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to comment. At a briefing on Friday, Price said the United States believes that “it is important for Palestinians to gain greater access to COVID vaccines in the coming weeks.”

What’s next: Last Friday, a delegation of senior officials from the Israeli Ministry of Health visited Ramallah for talks with his Palestinian colleagues. One of the issues discussed was Israel giving Palestinians 100,000 doses of vaccines from its national supply to vaccinate medical staff and people over 60.