JERUSALEM – The Palestinian Authority announced a series of new lockdown restrictions in the West Bank on Saturday as coronavirus infections rise and Palestinians await a major vaccination program.
The move comes as Israel has ample vaccine supplies and has advanced its own vaccination program that surpasses the rest of the world. The imbalance has added new friction to the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict and scrutinized Israel’s commitments in the occupied territories.
Lockdown restrictions, which are supposed to last 12 days, include university closings, nighttime restrictions on travel and non-essential trade, and a ban on gatherings for weddings, parties and funerals.
Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said Saturday that 910 new cases and five deaths had been recorded in the West Bank in the past 24 hours. Another Palestinian woman, she added, died in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip after signing Covid-19.
Ms. al-Kaila said three other Palestinians from East Jerusalem have died of the disease in recent days.
About 91 percent of Palestinians infected with the disease since last March have recovered, Ms. al-Kaila said. In total, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, there were around 206,440 confirmed cases among Palestinians last year, including around 24,500 in Israel-annexed East Jerusalem.
Israel’s vaccination program extends to all residents of East Jerusalem, but many Palestinians there have been reluctant to take the vaccine, residents said because of low confidence in the Israeli authorities and a spate of unsubstantiated, negative rumors about the vaccine in the social sphere Media.
Israeli officials say the Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-government in parts of the West Bank, took responsibility for health services in its controlled areas when the Interim Peace Accords known as the Oslo Accords were signed in the mid-1990s.
Israel has vaccinated more than half of its 9.2 million population with a first dose and more than a third with a second dose, but has so far only provided the Palestinian Authority with 2,000 doses and promised 3,000 more. More than 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and another two million in the Gaza Strip.
Apr. 28, 2021, 12:03 p.m. ET
Israeli officials have said it is in their interests to help the Palestinians once Israeli citizens, including hundreds of thousands of settlers in the West Bank, have been fully vaccinated. They have stated that they may start vaccinating tens of thousands of Palestinian workers who routinely come to work in Israel and that they may transfer more vaccines to the Palestinian Authority, but details have not been released.
Human rights activists have argued that Israel should vaccinate the Palestinian people in parallel with its own citizens. You cite the Fourth Geneva Convention, according to which the occupying powers are obliged to guarantee the public health of people living under occupation as much as possible. An annex to the Oslo Agreement also calls for cooperation in the fight against epidemics.
The dispute was exacerbated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent foray into vaccine diplomacy with a pledge to send thousands of replacement doses to allies from Hungary in Guatemala. These efforts were suspended when the Israeli attorney general checks that the decision-making has been made through appropriate channels.
So far, the Palestinians from Russia have received 10,000 doses of their Sputnik-V vaccine, of which 2,000 have been transferred to Gaza from the West Bank. Last weekend, another shipment of 20,000 Russian cans donated by the United Arab Emirates came across the Egyptian border into Gaza.
Palestinian officials expect to receive 37,440 cans of Pfizer and hundreds of thousands of AstraZeneca cans through Covax’s global sharing initiative sometime in March. Additional shipments of AstraZeneca vaccines are also expected.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh said Saturday that global competition was mainly responsible for delays in introducing significant vaccination, but that a range of vaccines are expected next week, according to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency.
Israel is still struggling with high infection rates despite the successful introduction of vaccines and has been banning nightly travel since Thursday to prevent parties during the Purim holiday.