The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry in Ramallah officially returned to Israel 90,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses – the first batch in a 1.4 million-dose swap deal that infuriated Palestinians.
People took to social media with complaints that the doses were “about to expire” and demanding that the PA come clean, prompting it to cancel the swap deal on Friday.
Under tremendous public pressure, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh ordered the deal canceled.
Palestinians are accusing high-ranking PA officials of trying to profit from the deal, prompting some officials, such as PA Civil Affairs Minister Hussein Al-Sheikh, to issue statements distancing themselves from it.
A Palestinian Health Ministry official in Ramallah told The Media Line that Al-Sheikh supervised and approved the deal with the Israelis. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that the PA health minister was not a part of the negotiations.
Israeli officials announced the deal early on Friday, saying they were able to provide the doses to the PA as their expiration date nears.
The Health Ministry in Ramallah had confirmed the delivery “in the coming days” of 1 million vaccine doses, without mentioning an agreement with the Jewish state.
The ministry issued a statement saying that Pfizer played a major role in helping “to accelerate the vaccination campaign.”
What exacerbated the situation more was the confusion, lack of transparency, and dearth of information coming out of the PA’s own Health Ministry. Palestinians found out about the vaccine swap deal and the expiration date from Israeli officials and media.
The PA’s decision came after an uproar on social media by Palestinians over the shipment of the vaccines were about to expire by the end of June. The campaign mushroomed with allegations of corruption hovering over the PA.
The PA government purchased 4 million vaccines from Pfizer and is hoping to receive them as soon as possible.
The controversy comes six months after Israel’s vaccination drive began. It has to date inoculated about 59% of its population with at least one dose of the vaccine; 55% have received two doses. It has faced criticism for not sharing its vaccines with the 4.5 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Dr. Isam Abdeen, a law and human rights lecturer at Birzeit University and at the Arab American University, both located in the West Bank, demanded that the details of the agreement be made public. He said in a post on social media, “This is a natural and inherent right for people to access information. Thus, the parameters of the agreement, the parties to the agreement, the official who signed on behalf of the Palestinian side and the middleman, and those who have anything to do with brokering it at the expense of people’s rights and lives” must be made public.
Abdeen is a harsh, outspoken critic of the PA who has often accused it of rampant corruption and urged it to be more transparent.
“The Palestinian Authority is mired to the core in corruption,” Abdeen wrote, asserting that the PA’s many agencies charged with fighting corruption are incapable of conducting proper investigations.
“They are run by the crooks of a corrupt regime to maintain its continuity and talking about investigative committees is just a joke because the regime chooses cronies from official bodies and society.”
Ghassan Jadallah, a member of Mohammed Dahlan’s Fatah – Democratic Reform Bloc, described what happened as a “scandal” and likened PA officials to “Ali Baba and the 40 thieves.”
“This gang trying to hide the facts related to the expired corona vaccine scandal is a blatant example of the disregard for our Palestinian people, and the indifference to any measures, given that all government institutions are in the pocket of those who chose to profit at the expense of people’s lives.”
Jadallah warned anyone involved, “We tell them that such crimes are not subject to a statute of limitations and one day the Palestinian people will have a judiciary capable of deterring the corrupt.”
The Democratic National Assembly issued a statement saying it followed with “great bitterness the developments of events related to the secret deal between the government and the occupation force to receive corona vaccines whose expiration date is near, and that Israel does not want.”
“This deal,” the statement adds, “is a vivid example of the level of disregard for the minds, lives and dignity of the Palestinian people, and a continuation of the lies, procrastination and bluster, and it is a living embodiment of professional and political incompetence. In short, the deal is a mark of shame on the foreheads of Palestinian decision-makers.”