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If Israel is Intent on Depriving Palestinians of Coronavirus Vaccine, It Has a Strange Way of Showing It

The Palestinians, with their usual vituperation, have now called Israel guilty of “war crimes” because it has not immediately approved the transfer of a shipment of Russian Sputnik vaccines to Gaza that suddenly appeared, a shipment “uncoordinated” with Israel, and without any sign of having obtained the necessary permits, at Israel’s border with the PA-held territory. A report on this claimed outrage is here: “Israel blocks delivery of truckload of coronavirus vaccines sent by PA to Gaza,” by Aaron Boxerman, Times of Israel, February 16, 2021:

Israeli authorities continued to delay transferring vaccines to Gaza on Tuesday, despite a formal request by the Palestinian Authority to send a shipment of Russian vaccines from Ramallah to the coastal enclave.

Israel’s National Security Council, an advisory body inside the Prime Minister’s Office, is “examining the request,” an official in the Defense Ministry said.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to a request for comment. The vaccines’ entry will eventually be approved or rejected by the executive branch.

While Israel has surged ahead in vaccinating its population — nearly 43 percent of Israelis had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine as of Monday — the Palestinians have yet to begin a major immunization rollout….

“This reveals the true, ugly, hideous face of [Israel],” senior Islamic Jihad official Yousef al-Hasayneh said in a statement….

Or was the “true” face of Israel shown, rather, in the delivery of the Moderna vaccine, the promise of more doses to come, and the commitment to providing the PA with those doses of three different vaccines that will be left over once the Israeli population has been inoculated?

If Israel is intent on depriving the Palestinians of receiving the coronavirus vaccine, it certainly has a strange way of showing it. Not only did it offer no objection to, much less try to halt, the 10,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine from being offloaded at the port of Haifa, and then swiftly delivered to Ramallah, but Israel has also delivered 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine from its own supply, even before it has finished vaccinating its own people – and has promised at least another 3,000 doses within weeks, with the promise of huge deliveries in the future. Israel deliberately ordered large numbers of doses of all three of the main vaccines – Pfizer, Moderna, and Astra-Zeneca — and by March expects to deliver the vaccines it has left over to the Palestinians. As the Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has said:

“We want to make sure we have enough for us and, if there is enough, we will see what we can do for our immediate neighbors — the fact that the Palestinians are in a bad shape right now is not in Israel’s interests.” Even though other countries have sought to obtain promises of vaccines from Israel once it has completed its mass inoculation, the Jewish state has made clear it intends to supply the Palestinians first. And the Palestinian officials now accusing Israel of “war crimes”– in holding up a single shipment from Ramallah to Gaza– know perfectly well what Israel’s intentions are….

Ramallah is set to receive most of the immunizations acquired by the PA, although some others will head straight from Israeli ports to Gaza, World Health Organization envoy Gerald Rockenschaub told The Times of Israel on Monday.

So apparently there has been no sign of impending trouble for the vaccines that will go straight “from Israeli ports to Gaza,” according to the WHO itself. Nor was there any objection by Israel, no attempt to halt, the delivery of Russian vaccines (and Israeli ones too), to Ramallah.

In order for the Palestinian Authority to send its vaccines to Gaza, however, Israel will have to sign off on the procedure. For now, officials on both sides confirmed, no approval has been given.

The Israeli defense official told The Times of Israel that the Palestinian Authority had sent a truck containing the vaccines to the Beitunia commercial crossing south of Ramallah on Monday. Israeli authorities turned the truck away, the official said.

“They sent a truck full of vaccines down to Beitunia without any kind of coordination with us, without having received the proper permits,” the official said, calling the incident “inane.”…

Why didn’t the PA follow the agreed-upon protocol, coordinate the shipment with Israel, obtain the permits necessary, do any of the things that Israel requires of all shipments entering Israel from PA-held territory for delivery in Gaza? The PA has offered no explanation. Israel has plenty of reasons to want its security requirements observed. It was a cock-up on the PA’s part. Once the proper permit has been obtained, the truck should be waved through. Unless….unless Israel decides to use this particular shipment of vaccines as a bargaining chip to obtain an important quid pro quo.

Some Israeli lawmakers have demanded conditioning the transfer of the vaccines on the return of Israeli captives held by Hamas.

The terror group currently imprisons two Israelis — Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed — and holds the remains of two Israeli soldiers — Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul. Hamas officials have said they hope to use the four Israelis as bargaining chips in a future prisoner exchange with Israel.

This surely is the heart of the matter. Israelis are perfectly willing to deliver vaccines to the PA, without holding up any shipments of the Russian vaccine and even delivering thousands of doses from Israel’s own supply of Moderna vaccine so that the PA could inoculate medical personnel. But Israel is more reluctant to transfer vaccines to Hamas-ruled Gaza until it obtains a modest quid pro quo from the terror group. Hamas has been holding two Israeli citizens, Avera Mangistu and Hisham al-Sayed, both suffering from severe mental problems, who wandered separately into Gaza in 2014 and 2015, and have been held incommunicado ever since. Israel wants those inoffensive, helpless, mentally defective men returned to their families. It also wants returned the bodies of two Israeli soldiers who were killed during Operation Protective Edge six years ago. Hamas has so far refused both requests. Now Israel has a bargaining chip it can use against Hamas, and many Israelis think it should be used. That is not a “war crime.” The “war crimes” here are those of Hamas, which has engaged in the atrocity of holding two mental defectives incommunicado for six years, and has refused to turn over the bodies of dead soldiers to their families. Both are acts of wanton cruelty.

“Israel is going beyond the letter of the law in providing humanitarian aid. We will give humanitarian aid, yes, in exchange for humanitarianism,” outgoing Blue and White MK Michal Cotler-Wunsch told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee on Monday.

That’s nicely put by MK Cotler-Wunsch. Israel has already provided humanitarian aid, including thousands of doses of its own store of coronavirus vaccines, and will in the future provide to the PA not thousands but possibly hundreds of thousands of doses it will have left over, to the PA,. And it will do the same for Gaza, but this time it will insist on only one thing: that Hamas, at long last, exhibit a modicum of human decency, and return two feeble-minded captives, and two bodies, to their families in Israel.

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