Palestinians call off one million dose vaccine exchange with Israel

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Palestinians Call Off One Million Dose Vaccine Exchange With Israel
Palestinians Israel, © AP/Press Association Images
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By Joseph Krauss, Associated Press

The Palestinian Authority is calling off an agreement whereby Israel would transfer one million doses of coronavirus vaccines to it in exchange for a similar number later this year.

The PA says the doses, which Israel began shipping to the occupied West Bank on Friday, are too close to expiring.


An Israeli youth receives a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (Sebastian Scheiner/AP)

Palestinian officials had come under heavy criticism on social media after the agreement was announced earlier, with Palestinians accusing them of accepting sub-par vaccines and suggesting they might not be effective.

In announcing the agreement, Israel said the vaccines “will expire soon” without specifying the date.

Israel has completely reopened after carrying out a highly successful vaccination campaign, but has faced criticism for not sharing its supplies with the 4.5 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

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The new Israeli government, which was sworn in on Sunday, said it would transfer Pfizer vaccines that will expire soon, and that the Palestinian Authority would reimburse it with a similar number of vaccines when it receives them from the pharmaceutical company in September or October.

Up to 1.4 million doses could be exchanged, the government said in a statement.

“We will continue to find effective ways to cooperate for the benefit of people in the region,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tweeted after the deal was announced.

Cogat, the Israeli military body that coordinates civilian affairs in the occupied territories, said it had coordinated the delivery of the first 100,000 doses to the West Bank on Friday.

The Palestinians portrayed the agreement differently, saying Pfizer had suggested the transfer as a way of speeding up its delivery of four million doses that the PA had already paid for in an agreement reached directly with the drug company.

“This is not an agreement with Israel, but with the Pfizer company,” Palestinian Health Minister Mai Alkaila said earlier on Friday, before the deal was called off, according to the official Wafa news agency.

At a press conference on Friday evening, she said Mr Alkaila said that health officials who inspected the vaccines found they “did not meet standards and so we decided to return them”.

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Government spokesman Ibrahim Milhim said that Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has ordered the cancelation of the agreement and return the vaccines to Israel.

He said the Palestinians would not accept “about-to-expire” vaccines from Israel.

Rights groups have said that Israel, as an occupying power, is obliged to provide vaccines to the Palestinians. Israel denies having such an obligation, pointing to interim peace agreements reached with the Palestinians in the 1990s.

Those agreements say the PA, which has limited autonomy in parts of the occupied West Bank, is responsible for healthcare but that the two sides should cooperate to combat pandemics.

Israel has offered vaccines to the more than 100,000 Palestinians from the occupied West Bank who work inside Israel, as well as Palestinians in east Jerusalem.

Gaza is ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel and Western countries. Israeli officials have suggested linking any supply of vaccines to Gaza to the return of two Israeli captives and the remains of two soldiers held by Hamas.

The PA has said it is acquiring its own supplies through agreements with private companies and a World Health Organisation programme designed to aid needy countries.

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