Israel will use some of its excess supply of coronavirus vaccines as international humanitarian aid, using its glut of blows to pursue diplomatic goals while the Palestinians wait for aid shipments for their own supplies.
The first three countries to receive thousands of doses will be Honduras, the Czech Republic and Guatemala, all of which have recently agreed to step up their diplomatic presence in Jerusalem, further strengthening Israel’s claim to the disputed city.
The news was first reported by the public broadcaster Kan and a senior Israeli politician later confirmed the plans to the Financial Times. “It happens,” he said. The Czech Republic said it had received a small shipment from Israel, Reuters reported, and the government of Honduras has said it expects 5,000 doses from Israel. Flight tracks showed a Honduran military plane landing at Israel’s closed Ben-Gurion Airport on Tuesday.
The Israeli government has yet to officially confirm the deliveries, although in a statement on Tuesday it said: “In light of the success of the vaccination campaign in Israel, the first country in the world to vaccinate the population, Israel received many requests from countries. around the world to help deliver vaccines. “
The decision to use Israel’s remaining doses of Moderna vaccine comes after the Jewish state struck a data-sharing agreement with Pfizer that resulted in unlimited supplies, fueling the world’s fastest vaccination campaign.
The policy could also be extended to help speed up talks with predominantly Muslim states considering warming up diplomatic relations with Israel, another Israeli official said.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, has already had success with the new policy. Over the weekend, an Israeli woman who had crossed into Syria was released after Israel paid Russia to send an unspecified amount of its Sputnik V vaccine to the Syrian regime, the senior Israeli politician said.
Israel is in the enviable position of having access to unused vaccines, especially as back-up deals with Moderna and AstraZeneca mean millions of vaccine doses are either on their way or already in cold storage in the state. Jewish.
But he rejected any suggestion that he would be obligated under international law to provide vaccines to Palestinians living under his occupation, asserting the 1993 Oslo accords, which provided for limited autonomy in heavily populated areas of the West Bank and from the Gaza Strip. , transferred this responsibility to the Palestinian Authority.
It sent fewer than 5,000 doses to the Palestinian Authority to immunize frontline health workers, and a smaller and unspecified number to the Gaza Strip, according to a defense ministry official.
“Not only is Israel denying Palestinians access to vaccines, but Israel is also doing it to extract political points at the expense of the Palestinians,” said Diana Buttu, an Arab-Israeli lawyer who has worked with the Palestinian Authority in its negotiations. with Israel. “It’s not just that there is a practical trade deal between Israel and Honduras, it’s because Honduras is moving its embassy to Jerusalem and that’s why they are getting the vaccine.”
Separately, Netanyahu has decided not to delay the transfer of international vaccine aid shipments to the Gaza Strip to pressure Hamas to release the bodies of two Israeli soldiers and two civilians held by the group. activist.
The IDF has advised against using access to vaccines as leverage after ministers from Netanyahu’s right-wing camp publicly demanded that access to vaccines be conditional on the release of bodies and prisoners.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz responded to reports of deliveries to other countries saying it was a “vaccine trade paid for by Israeli taxpayers,” and Netanyahu made the decision without consulting the rest of the government.
Talks for the release of the Israeli woman, brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, also included the return of two Syrian shepherds who had entered Israel, and were facilitated after the Syrian authorities were assured that the woman did not was neither a spy nor a threat. .
Netanyahu then dodged journalists’ questions about using vaccines to speed up his release, saying only that no “Israeli” vaccine had been traded.