UN calls on Israel to help make vaccines available to Palestinians

Cooperative Israeli-Palestinian efforts to combat the pandemic in the Palestinian territories have been lauded, including by the UN.

A Palestinian man is helped by his son as he receives a vaccination against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as Israel continues its national vaccination drive, in east Jerusalem December 23, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
A Palestinian man is helped by his son as he receives a vaccination against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as Israel continues its national vaccination drive, in east Jerusalem December 23, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
The UN has called on Israel to help make vaccines available to the Palestinians, but stopped short of asking it to distribute the vaccines to them.
“Israel has launched a large-scale vaccination campaign for its citizens and residents,” said Tor Wennesland, newly arrived UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, who replaced Nickolay Mladenov.
“In this context, the UN continues to encourage Israel to help address the priority needs of Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories and to support COVID-19 vaccine availability more generally,” he said.
“This will be critical for the broader efforts of both governments to control the pandemic and is also in line with Israel’s obligations under international law,” Wennesland told the UN Security Council, which held its only meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Tuesday.
Cooperative Israeli-Palestinian efforts to combat the pandemic in the Palestinian territories have been lauded, including by the UN.
“Israel has worked closely with the UN and its partners throughout the course of the pandemic to ensure that equipment and supplies have been delivered throughout the occupied West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and Gaza,” Wennesland said.
“It is important that the same level of engagement and cooperation be sustained with regard to the delivery of vaccines,” he said.
The discrepancy between Israel’s advanced vaccine program, by which it already protects more than a million of its citizens, while there is a complete absence of any Palestinian Authority program, has garnered international attention.
Israel has been criticized for not directly providing vaccines to the Palestinians living under PA auspices, a move that would appear to violate the principle of PA self-governance set up under the 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords.
The PA itself has made contradictory statements blasting Israel for not providing vaccines while at the same time insisting that it plans to purchase the vaccines on its own. It has signed contracts for vaccines, including from Russia, but none have arrived.
PA Foreign Minister Riad Malki told the UNSC on Tuesday that “the occupying power has not provided any vaccine to the Palestinian people under occupation to this day, insisting that it is under no obligation to do so.”
Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan told the Security Council that the PA had “informed Israel they intend to purchase vaccines from the Russian government, and Israel has announced it will facilitate their transfer. These are the facts.”
Wennesland said that the “Palestinian government is working to procure a supply of vaccines and anticipates support through the global COVAX-AMC facility. The initial allocations of vaccines to cover priority groups are expected in the first half of 2021.”
Wennesland also addressed a wide range of issues relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He slammed Israeli settlement activity, stating that “settlements are illegal under international law and are a major obstacle to peace.”
He also took Israel to task for its continued demolition of illegal Palestinian structures, explaining that 71 Palestinian-owned structures, of which 19 were residential, were confiscated or destroyed in the last month.
As a result, he said, 73 Palestinians, including 17 women and 37 children, were displaced.
“The demolitions and seizures were executed due to the lack of Israeli-issued building permits, which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain,” Wennesland said.
Israel, he said, had also destroyed 2,000 Palestinian-owned trees which it said were planted on state land.
“I urge Israel to cease demolitions and seizures of Palestinian property,” Wennesland said.
Palestinians in Gaza launched five rockets against Israel, which did not cause injuries. Three Palestinians were injured in IDF retaliatory strikes, he said.
In the West Bank in the last month, two Palestinians, including a minor, were killed carrying out attacks against Israelis, he said. Some 63 Palestinians were injured in clashes with the IDF or during search or arrest operations by Israeli security forces, Wennesland said.
Separately, he said, eight Israelis, including two soldiers, two women and one child, were injured by Palestinians in the last month.
He described some of the more major incidents, including the death of Esther Horgan, 52, who was killed by a Palestinian while jogging near her home in the Tal Menashe settlement.
Wennesland recalled how in Jerusalem’s Old City, a 17-year-old Palestinian opened fire at a police post and was killed by Israeli security forces. A Palestinian man was paralyzed after he was shot by the IDF as he was attempting to prevent them from confiscating a generator. Another Palestinian man was killed at the Gush Etzion junction in the West Bank, during an attempted stabbing attack.
He called on Israel to “exercise maximum restraint” when combating Palestinian violence and said it should “use lethal force only when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”
To the Palestinians in Gaza, he said, “the indiscriminate launching of rockets toward Israeli population centers violates international law and must stop immediately. There can be no justification for attacks against civilians.”
Wennesland also spoke against settler and Jewish extremist violence against Palestinians. In the last month, he said, there were 45 incidents where Israeli settlers and others injured Palestinians or damaged their property. This resulted in 22 injuries and damage to property. In one incident near east Jerusalem and another near Nablus, a boy and a man were physically assaulted and injured.
Palestinians in the last month carried out 55 attacks against Israelis in the West Bank, with six injuries and damage to property. He also reported on the incident in which an Israeli woman sustained a serious injury when a Palestinian threw a rock at her car, hitting her in the head.
He called for a return to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and promised to continue the work done by Mladenov, particularly his efforts to “speak openly and frankly with all sides.”
“I will support and encourage Israelis and Palestinians in pursuit of peace, urge them to refrain from damaging unilateral steps, and help to create an environment conducive to dialogue,” Wennesland said.