U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was right to remind Israel’s government of its obligation to the Palestinians. Blinken spoke with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi Monday and asked that Israel help in delivering coronavirus vaccines from abroad to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
President Donald Trump’s biased attitude in the past four years provided backing to deniers of the occupation and to those seeing to shirk responsibility for the Palestinians.
The Biden administration is in effect joining human rights organizations around the world that have been trying to apply pressure and that recently called on the Israeli government to see to it that the Palestinians are vaccinated, as required by Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that the occupying power “has the duty of ensuring and maintaining … prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.”
But not in the foreseeable future, presumably: What was Israel’s response? The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement Tuesday that Israel will provide a symbolic quantity of vaccines to Palestinian Authority medical teams and to a few countries, including Guatemala (the second country, after the U.S., to move its embassy to Jerusalem), Honduras (which said it plans to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem), the Czech Republic (which announced plans to open a diplomatic office in the capital) and Hungary.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prefers to buy diplomatic support with leftover vaccine rather than to meet Israel’s legal and moral obligation to the Palestinians.
Needless to say, this is not only a legal and humanitarian duty but a medical necessity: Not only are the fates of our two nations entwined, so are the people themselves. The Israelis and Palestinians live within a single territorial unit, such that the road to eradicating the pandemic within Israel’s sovereign borders also runs through the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The Health Ministry has recognized that “the spread of coronavirus in the Palestinian Authority could also affect the infection situation among the Israeli population.” Last week, Health Ministry Director General Prof. Chezy Levy, coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash and Head of Public Health Services Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, held a work meeting with their Palestinian counterparts at the Palestinian Health Ministry in Ramallah. According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, Israel agreed to vaccinate 100,000 Palestinians who work in Israel, but that has not yet been confirmed at the political level in Israel.
In his conversation with Blinken, Ashkenazi noted that the possibility is being considered, and one would hope that the conversation would encourage Israel’s political leadership to consent to the request. But that is not sufficient. Seeing to the vaccination of the entire Palestinian population needs to be a top priority for Israel.