The Ongoing Palestinian Vaccine Debacle

The depressing story of how the Palestinian Authority succumbed to conspiracy theories and political partisanship and rejected 1.2 million coronavirus vaccines from Israel

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The Palestinian Vaccine Fiasco

Ever since Israel began its world-beating coronavirus vaccination drive, it has faced pressure to help vaccinate its Palestinian neighbors. Critics argued that Israel was legally obligated to provide for the healthcare of those under its occupation, while the country’s officials maintained that vaccination fell under the purview of the Palestinian Authority, in accordance with the Oslo Accords. To my mind, both sides were partly correct: while Israel technically did not have a legal obligation to facilitate Palestinian vaccination, it clearly had a moral one. Needless to say, this was not the position taken by the Netanyahu government, despite the entreaties of Israel’s own health experts.

But all that changed when Israel’s new government took power. Just days into its tenure, it announced that it would be transferring 1.2 million vaccines to the Palestinian Authority. This seemed like the rare positive-sum policy that would benefit both peoples. Until it all fell apart. You probably haven’t heard much about this story, but you should, because this failure will have deadly consequences for real people. Today in Tablet, I have a detailed report unpacking why this happened, what can be learned from it, and what might still be done to help those in need. Here’s the start:

On Wednesday, an Israeli plane landed in Seoul carrying 700,000 Pfizer coronavirus vaccines. The batch was part of a strategic swap between the Jewish state and South Korea. The doses involved were due to expire at the end of the month, which meant that they would have likely gone to waste in Israel—whose population is mostly vaccinated—but would be quite valuable in South Korea, which is struggling to raise its relatively meager vaccination rate. And so, in exchange for Israel’s vaccines, South Korea agreed to trade its upcoming Pfizer order—estimated to arrive between September and November—to Israel. In this way, both countries will get what they need when they need it most.

The exchange is a win-win for Israel and South Korea—and a lose-lose for the Palestinian people, who were originally supposed to receive these very vaccines in the exact same arrangement with Israel. But thanks to a bad faith anti-vax campaign—enabled by feckless political figures, inept international media coverage, and partisan activism—the deal was capsized shortly after it was announced.

This public health disaster deserves a lot more attention than it has received, because it reveals the pathologies that continue to prevent progress in the region, and because, quite simply, it’s going to get people killed. If policymakers want to prevent that from happening, and stop fiascos like this from repeating themselves, they need to understand how this one transpired.

Read the rest in Tablet to see how conspiracy theories, partisan posturing, and media failure created the perfect storm that blew up a rare win-win collaboration between Israelis and Palestinians.

The short version: Palestinian political extremists successfully fomented a social media backlash against the Israeli vaccines, and the Palestinian Authority capitulated rather than stand behind doses they knew would save lives. At the same time, both human rights NGOs and the international media failed to accurately report what had happened, and so the Palestinian leadership never faced any pressure to change course—and even now is leaving vaccines on the table. The affair is another reminder that the underlying problems that plague the region didn’t go away simply because Netanyahu did, and will take serious effort to resolve. Read the whole thing here.

The Interfaith Peace Activism Behind Israel’s New Government

Last month, when I spoke with Tommy Vietor on Pod Save the World about the unusual composition of Israel’s new government, I noted that there had been a “media failure” surrounding Mansour Abbas, head of the United Arab List party. Abbas led his faction into the Israeli coalition—the first Arab party to join one—and in the process made himself the most powerful Arab politician in Israeli history. Yet despite his centrality to recent developments, Abbas had received little coverage, which did not seem tenable for much longer. As I said to Tommy: “I hope every international paper is prepping a giant profile on Mansour Abbas.”

This week, the New York Times began to rectify this oversight, with an informative article by Patrick Kingsley about the religious peace-building movement that influenced Abbas, and the Jewish allies who joined him on his journey. In a region when religion is often posed as the problem, the piece is a reminder that it is also integral to the solution.

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