Israel approves plan to vaccinate West Bank laborers

FILE - In this June 30, 2020 file photo, Palestinian laborers line up to cross a checkpoint at the entrance to the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, near Jerusalem. On Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, Israel announced plans to vaccinate tens of thousands of Palestinians who work inside Israel and its West Bank settlements, at a time of vast disparities in access to vaccines between the Israeli and Palestinian populations. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)
FILE - In this June 30, 2020 file photo, Palestinian laborers line up to cross a checkpoint at the entrance to the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, near Jerusalem. On Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, Israel announced plans to vaccinate tens of thousands of Palestinians who work inside Israel and its West Bank settlements, at a time of vast disparities in access to vaccines between the Israeli and Palestinian populations. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Israel on Sunday announced plans to vaccinate tens of thousands of Palestinians who work inside Israel and its West Bank settlements, at a time of vast disparities in access to vaccines between the Israeli and Palestinian populations.

Israel has launched one of the world’s most successful vaccination programs, inoculating over half of its population in just two months. But it has come under international criticism for not sharing its vaccine stockpile with the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, even as it plans to share surplus vaccines with far-flung allies in Africa, Europe and Latin America.

The Israeli government approved the program for Palestinian workers to “maintain public health and the functioning of the economy,” said COGAT, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs. It said the program is expected to begin in the coming days.

It said the vaccines would be administered by Israeli medical teams at various checkpoints and industrial zones across the West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has moved aggressively to vaccinate Israel's population, securing deals with drug makers Pfizer and Moderna to ensure enough supplies for Israel's 9.3 million people. He expects to have the vast majority of the adult population vaccinated by the end of March.

But before Sunday's announcement, Israel has shared just 2,000 vaccines with the Palestinian Authority to protect front-line medical workers in the West Bank.

The Israeli program should provide some relief to the Palestinians, who have obtained just a few thousand vaccines on their own and were forced over the weekend to impose a new lockdown to control the latest coronavirus outbreak in the West Bank. Some 110,000 West Bank Palestinians have permits to work inside Israel or in the settlements.

The gap between Israel and the Palestinians has illustrated the global inequity between rich and poor nations in terms of access to vaccines.