Much uncertainty remains regarding Palestinian-Israeli cooperation on COVID-19 if the situation in the PA and Gaza deteriorates.
By Israel Kasnett, JNS
One thing is for sure: COVID-19 does not respect borders, or armistice lines for that matter. The deadly coronavirus strain that has already killed over 50,000 people around the world has yet to wreak havoc on Palestinians living in Judea, Samaria or Gaza.
As of this writing, 161 Palestinians are infected and one person has died, but those numbers are certain to change. The question is whether the Palestinians are adhering to the widely accepted guidelines on how to prevent or contain the spread of the virus, and what will happen if thousands of Palestinians do become infected, especially since the Palestinian healthcare system has limited capabilities.
Ashraf Jabari, a former officer in the Palestinian Authority security forces and co-chair of the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce—an NGO that promotes Israeli-Palestinian commercial partnerships, told JNS that while the rate of commitment to quarantine among Palestinians was 93 percent, if the situation worsens and the virus spreads rapidly, “the Palestinian health facilities will certainly not be able to treat a large number of patients at all because there is an acute shortage of means and the number of beds.”
So why are the PA in Judea and Samaria, and Hamas in Gaza, so ill-equipped to provide adequate medical care for its people?
A group of Democratic senators led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last Monday, asking him to ensure that Palestinians receive any necessary aid to combat the coronavirus pandemic. But these senators failed to explore why the Palestinians have limited resources and a weak healthcare system in the first place, even after receiving billions in financial aid for the past 25 years—over $8 billion from the United States alone.
Terror Funding vs. Health Care
JNS has extensively documented how the PA and Hamas have squandered hundreds of millions of dollars to fund terror in lieu of building hospitals and purchasing medical supplies. Even now, the PA continues to transfer much-needed funds to families of terrorists imprisoned in Israeli jails.
According to Maurice Hirsch at watchdog group Palestinian Media Watch, “the amount the PA is paying terrorists this month could buy them 387,143 coronavirus test kits or 465 ventilators instead.”
Compounding this problem is that the PA is still actively engaged in inciting against Israel.
According to Ja’abari, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, who has accused Israel of intentionally infecting Palestinians with the virus and rejects cooperation with Israel, is “an arrogant person who thinks that the PA can overpower COVID-19 on its own, which is political and medical stupidity.”
Bassem Eid, a Jerusalem-based political analyst, human rights activist and expert commentator in Arab and Palestinian affairs, agreed with Ja’abari, telling JNS that “one of the major problems is the PA accusing the Jews of spreading the virus.”
This is happening, he said, even as Israel and the PA work closely together to fight the pandemic.
“There is a huge level of cooperation between the PA and Israel with regard to combating the virus, no one can deny that. So if you have such cooperation, how can the P.A accuse Israel of spreading it?” he said, adding, “The PA must stop using the virus to incite against Israel.”
Eid said that while the situation in Gaza appears to be under control for now, the PA is scared that if it sees thousands of cases, it will collapse.
“I believe that with the coordination with Israel and with the people obeying orders, the number of sick people will be lower than expected,” he said.
David Pollock, the Bernstein fellow at The Washington Institute, and who focuses on the political dynamics of Middle East countries, told JNS that on the issue of cooperation between Israel and the PA, the Palestinian public “is solidly in favor of it and that is very different than their attitudes as recently as up to a month ago.”
“This is a significant and positive shift,” he said, suggesting it may be a sign of realism or pragmatism, “though it probably does not carry over to political issues.”
‘Fighting the Same Enemy’
Pollock agreed with Eid and Ja’abari that there is a lot of cooperation in the medical, humanitarian relief and security areas between Israel and the PA, but said that “at the same time, there are limits to this. There is still some Palestinian official or semi-official rhetoric or imagery that is still negative.”
By this he was referring to official PA incitement that accuses Israel of either spreading the virus or benefiting from it somehow.
“Overall,” he said, “I think there is a shift toward openness to technical or medical or related emergency cooperation and relatively little of the kind of finger-pointing that you often see on the Palestinian side.”
“On the Israeli side,” he added, “there is an interest in the security establishment to prevent, for all kinds of reasons, a massive outbreak in the West Bank or Gaza and to find emergency supplies and provide humanitarian relief.”
Ja’abari said that Israelis and Palestinians “are fighting the same enemy. The virus does not differentiate between religions.”
“Here in Hebron,” he said, “we are taking directives from the PA and the Israeli government seriously, both of which are working together to control the virus.”
“I wish both Israelis and Palestinians much health and hopefully this situation will pass and everything will be ok,” he said.