The Palestinian Authority publicly announced that agreement between Israel for the transfer 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to it in exchange for a similar number later this year has been called off. This announcement is coming days after the deal was announced.
The Authority said the doses were already close to the expiry date and fails to meet the standards of the Palestinian Authority. Israel had begun shipping the vaccines to the occupied West Bank. In announcing the agreement, Israel had said the vaccines “will expire soon” without specifying the date.
The public announcement was followed by a backlash from social media with allegations from all quarters that Palestinian officials being accused of accepting substandard vaccines and suggesting they might not be effective.
“After the technical teams in the ministry of health examined the first batch of the Pfizer vaccines that were received this evening from Israel, it became clear that the 90,000 doses received do not conform to the specifications contained in the agreement,” PA spokesman Ibrahim Melhem said during a joint press conference on Friday with PA Health Minister Mai al-Kaila.
Israel said it will transfer around 1 million doses of soon-to-expire COVID-19 vaccines to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for a similar number of doses the Palestinians expect to receive later this year. Israel, which has fully reopened after vaccinating some 85% of its adult population, faced criticism around the globe for not sharing its vaccines with 4.5 million Palestinians occupying the West Bank and Gaza.
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 the West Bank.
The Palestinians, however, 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 Pfizer.
According to Wafa News Agency, “This is not an agreement with Israel, but with the Pfizer Company,” Palestinian Health Minister Mai Alkaila said earlier before the deal was called off. She added that health officials who inspected the vaccines found they “did not meet standards and so we decided to return them.”
Government spokesman Ibrahim Milhim said that Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has ordered the cancelation of the agreement and return the vaccines to Israel. He said the Palestinians would not accept “about-to-expire” vaccines from Israel.
Israel has removed any form of restrictions with regards to the Coronavirus because of the successes recorded in providing vaccines to its citizenry. Businesses and schools have been reopened, and the requirement to wear masks in public was also removed.
Israel has offered vaccines to the more than 100,000 Palestinians from the occupied West Bank who work inside Israel, as well as Palestinians in east Jerusalem.
Gaza is ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and Western countries. 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.
Authorities in Palestine 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 the West Bank 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.