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February 4, 2021 5:19 am

The Palestinian Authority Uses COVID Vaccine Against Israel

avatar by Dexter Van Zile

Opinion

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas takes part in a virtual meeting with Palestinian faction heads, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sept. 3, 2020. Photo: Alaa Badarneh / Pool via Reuters.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has been playing a double game for the past few weeks. It has touted its decision to obtain COVID-19 vaccines from Russia as proof that it is able to take care of the needs of its people, while also claiming Israel is harming Palestinians by refusing to give them vaccines.

It is perfectly reasonable for the PA to decide to obtain vaccines from Russia. Article 17 of the Oslo Accords states specifically that “Powers and responsibilities in the sphere of Health in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will be transferred to the Palestinian side” and “the Palestinian side shall continue the vaccination of the population.” The result is that the Palestinian Authority is in charge of vaccinating the people it governs.

Still, the PA and its shills in the West have been attacking Israel for not providing Palestinians with COVID vaccines. Logically, it doesn’t make sense, but then again, this is the PA we’re talking about.

Whatever angle the PA can use to delegitimize Israel, it will use.

If Israel had intervened and given Palestinians the vaccine, we would likely have seen President Mahmoud Abbas find a way to use it to attack and demean the Jewish state. Any difficulties in the vaccine rollout in the West Bank and Gaza would have been blamed on Israel and the Jews.

The hypocrisy is even more evident when you consider the PA’s hostility toward Jewish sovereignty and self-determination. Between them, Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas have turned down multiple firm offers of statehood because it would have forced them to affirm once and for all the legitimacy of the Jewish state.

Yet, despite the PA’s refusal to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state, it allegedly wants this state to provide its citizens with a vaccine. Something’s not right here.

Sadly, media outlets have assisted the PA’s campaign to portray its own decision to obtain vaccines from Russia as a sin on the part of Israel.

On January 29, WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer did a show on the COVID-19 vaccine during which a caller asked a public health expert why the number of cases in Israel has gone up even as Israel has been so successful in vaccinating its people.

To demonstrate that there was nothing wrong with the vaccine, Lehrer cited a Reuters report and told his listeners that the Israeli government reported that there have been no serious cases of COVID-19 cases among those vaccinated — “even as infections surged in the wider population.” Then Lehrer went on to say, “There’s an issue in Israel with not giving the vaccine to Palestinians at the same rate as Jewish Israelis, so that’s a human rights issue.”

No, it’s not a “human rights issue.” It was a policy issue resolved by the Palestinians, who decided to get the vaccine from the Russians. The PA made a decision and acted on it, as it is expected to do under the Oslo Accords — a reality that Lehrer did not acknowledge.

Then there is a January 29 story in the Middle East Eye, an outlet that has published the work of numerous commentators hostile to Israel, including Sarah Leah Whitson and Joseph Massad. In the piece, Palestinian attorney Jonathan Kuttab declares that the Oslo Accords do not eliminate Israel’s responsibility to provide vaccines to the Palestinians as delineated by the Fourth Geneva Convention, which declares the occupying power is obligated to provide for the public health of the people being occupied.

First of all, the issue of whether Israel is an “occupying” power is highly contentious and debatable.

Second, there’s a real challenge to Kuttab’s argument. In 1958, the International Committee of the Red Cross issued a commentary on the Fourth Geneva Convention that deals specifically with public health. It states, in part, that the task of preventing and stopping epidemics “is above all one for the competent services of the occupied country itself. It is possible that in certain cases the national authorities will be perfectly well able to look after the health of the population; in such cases the Occupying Power will not have to intervene; it will merely avoid hampering the work of the organizations responsible for the task.”

But no amount of lawyering and propagandizing can obscure one simple reality: by ordering vaccines from Russia, the PA demonstrated itself competent to address the problem at hand. The Palestinians have a decision to make. They can take responsibility for their own future and welfare, or they can continue to turn every crisis into an opportunity to assail Israel.

Better luck next time.

Dexter Van Zile is the Shillman Research Fellow for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis.

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