The vaccination drive for Palestinian workers in Israel and the settlements will start fully on Monday following a delay, the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories announced on Sunday.
A successful pilot program on Thursday saw 700 Palestinians vaccinated at the Sha’ar Efraim checkpoint between the West Bank and Israel, according to the Health Ministry.
The full vaccination program for some 120,000 Palestinians who are legally employed in Israel and in West Bank settlements was supposed to start Sunday, at Sha’ar Efraim and seven other checkpoints, as well as four settlement industrial zones. However, on Friday, the military liaison to the Palestinians said the plan was being put on hold “due to administrative delays, which are supposed to be solved in the near future.”
The drive will now begin at checkpoints Monday and at West Bank industrial zones on Tuesday.
The Haaretz daily reported that the delay was due to a budgetary dispute.
Around 87,000 Palestinians hold work permits in Israel, and an additional 35,000 work in Israeli settlements, according to Defense Ministry figures.
Palestinian workers will be eligible to receive the shots by appointment and with the presentation of a valid employment permit.
Under the plan, the administration of the first doses of the two-shot regimen will be completed within two weeks, COGAT said, with the centers later opening for an additional two weeks to give the second dose.
While Israel has surged ahead in vaccinating its population — over half of all Israelis have received at least one dose of a coronavirus shot — only scattered shipments of vaccines have reached the Palestinians so far. The Palestinian Authority had expected to begin its public vaccination campaign in February and then early March with the arrival of a major shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines, but the shipments have suffered delays.
Israel has come under criticism for not vaccinating Palestinians, many of whom live under Israeli military rule. Human rights groups charge that international law requires Israel as an occupying power to provide vaccines for Palestinians.
Israel rejects the characterization that it occupies Palestinian territory, deeming the West Bank technically “disputed.” Israeli officials have also pointed to bilateral agreements between Israel and the Palestinians that designate responsibility for healthcare to the Palestinian Authority.
But current and former health officials have also repeatedly said that helping Palestinians get vaccines — especially Palestinians who work in Israel — is a public health priority for the Jewish state, as they regularly mix with Israelis.
Amid public pressure and calls for greater transparency, the Palestinian Authority acknowledged last Tuesday that some of the few COVID-19 vaccines in its possession did not go to healthcare workers, but rather to government officials, the Jordanian royal court, and the Palestinian national soccer team.
The announcement sparked outrage among Palestinians, who are currently seeing a surge in coronavirus cases in the West Bank.