WASHINGTON - Five Democratic senators on Friday asked U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to urge the Israeli government to do more to help Palestinians living in occupied territories to receive adequate supplies of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The senators - Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Tom Carper, Sherrod Brown and Jeff Merkely - wrote Blinken that "the urgency of the moment, as both Israelis and Palestinians face the threat of COVID, demands immediate action."
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Sanders, to date, has been the most vocal critic of Israel's failure to distribute COVID vaccines to the Palestinians, slamming the Israeli government for agreeing to first provide vaccines to countries with which it has bolstered relations in recent years. The plan has since been halted by Israel's attorney general due to concerns over its legality.
The senators acknowledged Israel's successful vaccination rollout, as well as its several thousand doses already distributed and planned vaccinations for 120,000 Palestinians with work permits in Israel, though stressed Israel's legal obligation "to provide for the health and well-being of all people under its control," citing the Fourth Geneva Convention's Article 56.
Although they noted that the Oslo Accords give the Palestinian Authority "considerable responsibility" over healthcare in the occupied territories, which the senators say should also be urged to uphold, they argued that "the Accords do not supersede Israel's responsibilities under the 4th Geneva Convention."
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The senators noted that Israeli citizens cannot be safe until Palestinians are also immunized, citing Israeli health officials who argued this point. "The attempt to treat some parts of the territories beyond the Green Line as Israeli while treating other parts, where the majority of Palestinians reside, as a separate entity jeopardizes the good work Israel has done in vaccinating its citizens, of all ethnicities."
In addition, the letter stated that the problems articulated are symptoms of the occupation, further urging the Biden administration to help foster an equitable resolution that ensures full citizenship rights for both Israelis and Palestinians. They also urged the quick resumption of funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Under Trump, Washington cut some $360 million in annual funding for the UN agency supporting Palestinian refugees, leading to tens of thousands of Palestinians no longer getting food aid or basic health services.
Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have received 30,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, and 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine donated by Israel. It may take a while still for a mass vaccination campaign to get under way in the Palestinian territories. A total of 1,827 people have died of COVID in the West Bank, while 560 have died in Gaza.