The strength that Israel is radiating both as a country and society in its ability to obtain vaccines and inoculate its citizens faster than any other country stands out against the chaos running rampant around the world, both in the advanced and enlightened Western Europe and North America, as well as our region, where health systems lag behind and the firm hand of security forces makes it difficult to realistically assess the magnitude of the crisis.
But the hope of a speedy exit from the crisis obscures the fact that in Israel’s backyard, the coronavirus continues to spread unhindered. Of course, I am referring to the Gaza Strip but more so to the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority is finding it difficult to deal with the pandemic and is not at all prepared to vaccinate the population.
The number of sick and dead is increasing daily, and a lack of reliable data, in addition to the limited ability of both Hamas and the P.A. to govern, means this is just the tip of the iceberg. It goes without saying that if morbidity in the Palestinian territories goes unchecked, Israel will find it difficult to take complete control over the pandemic in the territories under its control. It’s enough to see what is going on in eastern Jerusalem to understand the severity of the problem.
Israel then must take action, take responsibility, and ensure the inoculation of all of its residents west of the Jordan River. Such a move is necessary to deal effectively with the pandemic, but there are other significant advantages from Israel’s perspective.
Alongside the praise for Israel’s vaccination campaign, there has been no shortage of criticism in the global media, in particular in self-described “progressive” outlets, that Israel has made no effort to vaccinate the Palestinians. A vaccination campaign led by Israel would undoubtedly bolster its image among its friends and allies, and, should they take part logistically and financially, of its new friends such as the United Arab Emirates, making such a move doubly beneficial from a diplomatic perspective.
Yet the greatest significance of a campaign to vaccinate the Palestinians is that it would see Israel take responsibility for the population in Judea and Samaria, and possibly Gaza. This would best express the fact that despite agreements, declarations and moves such as the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, Israel remains sovereign for every matter on the ground. It may therefore be worthwhile to stop fooling ourselves as well and recognize the fact that west of the Jordan, there is only one responsible actor with the ability to manage and care for the population.
The coronavirus crisis may very well be a wake-up call as far as the reality in Judea and Samaria, which for some reason Israel chooses to ignore, is concerned. An exit from the crisis will provide Israel with a short respite it must use to advance a series of Israeli interests before the world refocuses its attention on our affairs and the political winds in the White House change direction.
The next Israeli government should keep that in mind.
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.