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July 26, 2020 4:56 am

The Palestinian Authority Prefers Conflict With Israel Over COVID-19 Mitigation

avatar by Steven Emerson


A Palestinian man shops ahead of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the West Bank city of Ramallah, April 22, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Mohamad Torokman.

Instead of working collaboratively with Israel to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, Palestinian leaders are choosing to incite violence against the Jewish state through baseless conspiracy theories. As the virus spread worldwide in March, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA) claimed that Israel was waging “a biological war against Palestine” and thwarting Palestinian efforts to combat the virus.

In reality, however, Palestinian leaders are the ones who are actively obstructing efforts to enforce COVID-19 safety measures and help Palestinians receive critical supplies.

Palestinian refusal to coordinate with Israel has had a demonstrably negative impact on containing the COVID-19 pandemic in the Palestinian territories, according to a July 20 report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In response to Israel’s proposal to annex parts of the West Bank, PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced in May that the Palestinians would be absolved of all agreements with Israel. As a result, the PA has cut almost all bilateral ties with the Jewish state, largely to the detriment of Palestinians.

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“The suspension of coordination has already affected humanitarian operations across the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), including preparedness and response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the OCHA report says.

UN-affiliated humanitarian agencies and other NGOs have faced major hurdles in distributing essential COVID-19 mitigation supplies to Palestinians since the start of the June. Access to health care is also a growing concern.

Amid rising COVID-19 cases in Israel and the Palestinian territories, Israel limited Gazan exit permits to emergency cases, including cancer patients. However, the PA’s new stance against Israel has significantly impeded Palestinian access to essential care.

“In Gaza, although financial approvals for patient referrals are still issued, the PA has ended its coordination of permits requests for residents, including for patients and their companions,” the OCHA report says.

The OCHA report is one of the first to focus on the humanitarian ramifications of a lack of coordination between the PA and Israel.

Last month, the PA also announced that it would stop accepting Israeli tax revenue payments — which made up about 60% of the PA’s budget in 2019. The PA’s dependence on Israel’s financial transfers will likely grow amid an overall decline in international funding due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest OCHA report also highlights the PA’s refusal to accept “clearance revenues that Israel collects on its behalf” as a major factor hurting economic life in the West Bank and inhibiting a more robust Palestinian response to contain the pandemic.

Rejecting financial transfers or assistance from Israel seems to be part of the PA’s modus operandi in recent months. The PA even refused to accept medical assistance flown from the United Arab Emirates to Israel in May. Palestinian leaders wanted to take a stance against growing diplomatic relations between the Gulf state and Israel.

The PA reportedly rejected the shipment because it had not been consulted on the humanitarian effort. However, it is the PA that was already working to halt most communication with Israel.

The PA’s preventive measures initially were effective in containing the virus. But the government’s refusal to accept financial and humanitarian assistance compounded a critical shortage of medical equipment, especially test kits and ventilators, according to a Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center report.

There are more than 11,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the West Bank, with 69 deaths from the virus so far.

As cases continue to rise, the PA is now unable to address rising COVID-19 cases in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control, Palestinian officials told the Media Line. Previous agreements with Israel enabled PA authorities to enter Area C, in coordination with Israel, to address humanitarian and security-related issues facing Palestinians. Without Israeli cooperation, however, Palestinian police and security forces cannot deploy to enforce COVID-19 protection measures in several Palestinian areas.

“Security in Palestinian villages in Area C northwest of Jerusalem was coordinated with Israel. If there is security coordination, then the situation is under control, and if not, there is chaos,” Areej Assi, mayor of Beit Liqya, told Media Line.

Instead of strengthening Israeli-Palestinian cooperation to fight a mutual threat, the PA would rather risk the lives of Palestinians to underscore a political point as COVID-19 cases rise.

Israel’s possible plan to annex parts of the West Bank appears to be shelved — at least for now. Yet the PA continues to undermine its constituents’ own safety and security by refusing to cooperate with Israel against a virus that is surging throughout the region.

Steven Emerson is the Executive Director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

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