Palestinians reject 1 million corona vaccine doses from Israel

Palestinian officials had come under heavy criticism on social media after the agreement was announced.

By World Israel News Staff and AP

The Palestinian Authority called off an agreement whereby Israel would transfer 1 million doses of coronavirus vaccines to it in exchange for a similar number later this year, hours after the deal was announced on Friday.

Israel said Friday it would transfer around 1 million doses of soon-to-expire coronavirus vaccines to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for a similar number of doses the Palestinians expect to receive later this year.

The Palestinians said the doses, which Israel began shipping to Judea and Samaria, are too close to expiring and do not meet their standards. In announcing the agreement, Israel had said the vaccines “will expire soon” without specifying the date.

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

There was no immediate comment from Israel, which had largely shut down for the weekly Sabbath.

The new Israeli government, which was sworn in on Sunday, said it would transfer Pfizer vaccines that are close to expiring, 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 Israeli government said in a statement.

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“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 Judea and Samaria on Friday.

The Palestinians portrayed the agreement differently, saying Pfizer had suggested the transfer as a way of speeding up its delivery of 4 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 Friday, before the deal was called off.

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

Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh ordered the cancellation of the agreement and the return of the vaccines to Israel, his spokesman said. Ibrahim Milhim said the Palestinians would not accept “about-to-expire” vaccines from Israel, citing the official Israeli statement.

Vaccines from Pfizer, authorized in the U.S. in December, typically have a six-month shelf life. It wasn’t immediately clear when the 1 million batch that Israel was to give the Palestinians was produced.

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An Israeli security official said the batch of vaccines that were transferred on Friday are to expire in two weeks. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said further shipments were planned in intervals also several weeks ahead of expiration.

Israel has carried out one of the most successful vaccination programs in the world, allowing it to fully reopen businesses and schools. This week, authorities lifted the requirement to wear masks in public, one of the last remaining restrictions.

Under interim peace agreements Israel reached with the Palestinians in the 1990s, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the health care of its population.

Israel offered vaccines to the more than 100,000 Palestinians from Judea and Samaria who work in other parts of Israel, as well as Palestinians in eastern portions of Jerusalem.

Gaza is ruled by the Islamic terror group Hamas, which diverts large amounts of aid for its campaign to destroy Israel. It also uses aid from Iran, the world’s top state-sponsor of terror, for militaristic purposes, instead of healthcare or civilian infrastructure.

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.

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

To date, around 380,000 Palestinians in Judea and Samaria and around 50,000 in Gaza have been vaccinated. More than 300,000 infections have been recorded in the two territories, including 3,545 deaths.