Written by Patrick Kingsley
The Israeli government has pledged to send thousands of spare coronavirus vaccines to foreign allies, reigniting a debate over Israel’s responsibilities to those closer to home: Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
On Tuesday, the governments of the Czech Republic and Honduras confirmed that Israel had each promised them 5,000 doses of the vaccine manufactured by Moderna. Israeli media reported that Hungary and Guatemala would receive a similar number, but the Hungarian and Israeli governments declined to comment, while the Guatemalan government did not respond to a request for comment.
Donations are the latest example of a new expression of soft power: vaccine diplomacy, in which vaccine-rich countries seek to reward or influence those with little access.
Seeking influence in Asia, China and India have donated thousands of doses of the vaccine to their neighbors. The United Arab Emirates have done the same for allies like Egypt. And last week Israel even promised to buy tens of thousands of doses on behalf of the Syrian government, a long-standing enemy, in return for the return of an Israeli civilian detained in Syria.
The vaccines awarded on Tuesday were given unconditionally, but they tacitly reward recent gestures by host countries that implicitly accept Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, which Israelis and Palestinians regard as their capital. Guatemala has moved its embassy to Jerusalem, while Honduras has pledged to do so. Hungary has set up a trade mission in Jerusalem, while the Czech Republic has promised to open a diplomatic office there.
Israel has administered at least one injection of the two-dose vaccine made by Pfizer to just over half of its own population of 9 million, making it the world leader in vaccine deployments. This enabled the Israeli government to strengthen its international relations with its surplus supply of Moderna vaccines.
But the move angered Palestinians because it suggests that Israel’s allies are of higher priority than Palestinians living under Israeli control in the occupied territories, nearly all of whom have yet to receive vaccines.
The Israeli government says the Palestinian Authority was tasked with organizing its own health care system in the 1990s after the signing of the Oslo accords which gave the Palestinian leadership limited autonomy in parts of the occupied territories .
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