TEL AVIV—Israel will vaccinate Palestinian laborers who work in Israel and in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Israel’s military said Sunday. The move comes as Israel has faced pressure to vaccinate Palestinians who live under Israeli control.
The program was approved Sunday by Israel’s political leaders and will begin in the coming days, according to the arm of Israel’s defense ministry that coordinates with the Palestinians.
Israel is running the world’s fastest vaccine drive, with over 50% of its population receiving one shot of the vaccine and more than one-third fully inoculated, almost exclusively with the Pfizer Inc. vaccine. The cash-strapped Palestinian Authority has been much slower than Israel in organizing a vaccination campaign, and it will mostly rely on the Covax program led by the World Health Organization under which it will receive vaccines for 60% of its population.
Israel will establish vaccination sites at crossings between Israel and the West Bank and in industrial zones in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Israeli medical teams will operate the program and will administer Moderna Inc. vaccines to those with Israeli work papers. According to a security official, 87,000 Palestinians have permits to work in Israel and 35,000 have permits to work in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
The military said the effort aims to “maintain public health and the functioning of the economy.”
Humanitarian organizations have called on Israel to use excess vaccine doses to inoculate about 5 million Palestinians who live in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza. Israeli officials say the Palestinian Authority has responsibility for its citizens’ healthcare, including procuring vaccines, under the terms of the 1990s Oslo Accords.
Israel’s business community and public health officials advising Israel’s cabinet have also urged Israel to vaccinate Palestinians because they fear that continued spread among the Palestinian population poses a threat to Israel.
Before Sunday’s announcement, Israel had promised 5,000 vaccines to the Palestinian Authority and has delivered 2,000. The United Arab Emirates shipped some 20,000 doses to the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas, as part of its world-wide vaccine diplomacy campaign. Israel earlier this month also allowed the delivery of 2,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine to Gaza after initially blocking them.
Last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would use excess vaccines for international humanitarian aid. He didn’t confirm the recipient countries, but an Israeli official said they would include Honduras, Guatemala and the Czech Republic. The program was later frozen after it faced legal challenges and is under review.
Israel purchased 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine in a deal under which Israel agreed to share data about the vaccine drive with Pfizer, and Pfizer in return promised to give priority to shipments of the vaccine to Israel. Israel also paid a premium for the doses.
Israel also bought six million doses of the vaccine developed by Moderna and ordered 10 million doses of the vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca PLC.
—Dov Lieber in Tel Aviv contributed to this article.
Write to Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com
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Appeared in the March 1, 2021, print edition as ‘Palestinians With Work Papers to Get Israeli Vaccination.’