Israel, PA tighten coordination to fight COVID-19 pandemic
Rivlin calls Abbas, hails ability to work together

Israel, PA tighten coordination to fight COVID-19 pandemic

Palestinian official says contagion ‘knows no borders and can infect everyone’; source in Defense Ministry says cooperation ‘very tight and very strong’

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinian security forces block the entrance to the Angel Hotel in the  the West Bank city of Bethlehem, March 5, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Palestinian security forces block the entrance to the Angel Hotel in the the West Bank city of Bethlehem, March 5, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Israel and the Palestinian Authority have stepped up coordination over the past few weeks to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, a senior Palestinian official said on Wednesday.

While Israeli and Palestinian officials have long worked together on security and civil matters, they recently set up a special mechanism to communicate “moment by moment” on all issues related to the virus, the official, who requested anonymity, told The Times of Israel.

“The virus knows no borders and can infect everyone,” the official said, adding that the Palestinians oppose “the occupation but need to work together” with Israel on this issue.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Defense Ministry body responsible for liaising with the Palestinians, did not respond to an emailed request for comment about the official’s remarks.

Palestinian laborers enter Israel to work through a checkpoint between the West Bank city of Hebron and Beersheva while carrying blankets and mattresses on March 18, 2020, as for the first time they have to stay for one to two months inside Israel amid the coronavirus pandemic. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

However, Yotam Shefer, the head of the international department at COGAT, told reporters in a briefing call on Wednesday that coordination between Israel and the Palestinians was “very tight and very strong.”

He also said that Israel gave the Palestinians 400 kits to test for the virus and 500 sets of protective gear for medical professionals and security forces, adding that Israeli and Palestinian medical professionals had participated in joint workshops about the contagion.

The Palestinian official said Hussen al-Sheikh, the head of the PA Civil Affairs Commission, was leading the communication mechanism with Israel from the Palestinian side, while noting that the PA ministers of health, agriculture, economy and finance were also taking part in it.

Hussein al-Sheikh, a close confidant of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking on Palestine TV, the official PA channel. (Screenshot: Palestine TV)

“If there is anything we need to discuss with the Israeli side about this contagion, we do it through this mechanism,” he said. “The messages are going back and forth all the time.”

The official also stated that the two sides have worked out a number of issues through the mechanism, including how to deal with Palestinians who work in Israel.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said on Tuesday that he had ordered authorities to allow Palestinians working in “essential sectors” in Israel to spend the coming one to two months in the country, with their employers finding a place for them to stay.

Shortly thereafter, PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said that Palestinians who labor in Israel would be given three days to leave the West Bank and arrange sleeping accommodations in their workplaces in coordination with their employers.

Shefer said that the Palestinian laborers would not be allowed to cross back and forth between Israel and the West Bank.

The Palestinian official who spoke to The Times of Israel also said the communication mechanism would organize meetings between Israeli and Palestinian authorities, if they were needed.

“We already had the Israeli and Palestinian finance ministers meet to discuss the economic side,” he said, referring to Moshe Kahlon and Shukri Bishara.

Separately on Wednesday, President Reuven Rivlin called PA President Mahmoud Abbas and told him that cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians was “vital to ensure the health” of both peoples, the President’s Residence said.

Rivlin also told his Palestinian counterpart that “our ability to work together in times of crisis is also testament to our ability to work together in the future for the good of us all,” the President’s Residence also said.

Nathan Jeffay contributed to this article.

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