Israel loans PA money, FM warns against Palestinian COVID-19 crisis

Mladenov meets with Kahlon and Rivlin on aid to West Bank, Gaza

Allies of the Machane Yehuda market stand empty due to coronavirus (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Allies of the Machane Yehuda market stand empty due to coronavirus
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel loaned money to the Palestinian Authority to help avert a COVID-19 economic and humanitarian crisis.
“The situation with [coronavirus] in the West Bank worries us all and could cause a humanitarian crisis,” Finance Minister Moshe Khalon (Likud) said on Thursday after he met with President Reuven Rivlin and UN Special Coordinator to the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Maj.-Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun and Chief of the UNESCO Coordination Unit, Jonathan Lincoln were also involved in the conversation on how best to help the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
According to the World Health Organization, there are 278 cases of COVID-19 among Palestinians in the West Bank, with two deaths. In addition, there are 13 cases in Gaza. But officials fear an outbreak and want to ensure that the Palestinians are equipped to handle that crisis.
Coronavirus "does not differentiate between peoples and geographical areas. The breakdown of health in the Palestinian Authority would impact Israel severely and it is in our interest to assist the PA in this complex situation,” Kahlon said.
The Finance Ministry told The Jerusalem Post that Israel transfers a monthly sum to the PA, but that is a partial sum, because Israel deducts from the transfer a sum equal to the amount the PA pays in monthly fees to terrorists and their families.
In light of the coronavirus crisis, Israel is now also providing the PA with a loan.
At Rivlin’s residence, Mladenov briefed Israeli officials on the UN plan to prevent a humanitarian crisis and spoke of the steps needed to implement it.
Rivlin stressed that “cooperation is not a possible option, it is our fundamental obligation in order to ensure the safety of all our peoples. This disease shows again and again that it does not recognize borders and that only through dialogue and sharing resources can we fight it.”
Abu Rukun said during the meeting, “The State of Israel, through COGAT, will continue to assist in the battle to halt the spread of coronavirus in the Palestinian territories. We are doing this through giving assistance, coordination and dialog and cooperation to the best of our abilities with the Palestinian health system and the international community.”
Thousands of COVID-19 test kits and protective equipment were transferred to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, the Finance Ministry said in a statement to the media after the meeting.
COGAT has coordinated training sessions for Palestinian medical professionals, including doctors, nurses and lab staff, the ministry said. Lorries carrying medical equipment, medications and cleaning materials, donated by various international bodies, has been coordinated by COGAT, it added.
 Hundreds of Palestinian patients come from Gaza and Judea and Samaria every day to receive life-saving medical treatment in Israel, the Finance Minister explained.
Thursday’s meeting is the second such conversation between Mladenov and Kahlon this week.
On Monday, Mladenov tweeted he spoke with Kahlon. “Very encouraging meeting with @KahlonMoshe on the steps that #Israel is taking in coordination with the #Palestinian Authority to alleviate the negative socio-economic impact of #COVID19. #UN has called on all sides to cooperate in a time of crisis,” Mladenov wrote.According to the World Bank the Palestinian economy is expected to contract by 2.5% and that is the best case scenario. It estimated that the contraction number could be as high as 7% if the COVID-19 crisis continued for over four months, the World Bank told The Jerusalem Post.
The Palestinian Authority needs $120 million just to deal with the medical needs from COVID-19. After that it estimated that PA debt could exceed $1 billion, the World Bank said. The PA has estimated that the debt is as high as $1.4 billion.
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, a quarter of the Palestinian workforce was already unemployed and 24% of Palestinians lived below the poverty line on $5.5 a day, the World Bank said. COVID-19 only made that worse.