Jerusalem (AFP) – Forget oil and weapons. Coronavirus vaccines are emerging as the newest preferred currency in the Middle East.
Israel’s reopening of its economy, combined with a mysterious prisoner exchange with Syria and the arrival of a batch of vaccines into the Gaza Strip, all confirm how those with access to vaccines wield political power in the troubled region.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been at the forefront of this trend, pinning his hopes for re-election on the success of his campaign to vaccinate Israel’s adult population. At the same time, offer rewards for those who receive the vaccination and punishment for those who don’t.
Israel has jumped into the world’s fastest vaccination campaign, giving at least one dose to more than half of its 9.3 million population and the required two doses to about a third in less than two months. In contrast to the long waiting times seen in Europe and the United States, vaccines are plentiful and nearly available on demand For anyone who wants one. The clinics even provided free food and a cappuccino to help attract naysayers who are hesitant to come and get a dose of cappuccino.
Netanyahu’s efforts finally seem to be paying off, and the number of new coronavirus infections and severe cases is decreasing. On Sunday, this enabled the government to lift a number of restrictions, and reopen stores, malls and many schools after a two-month closure. In the coming weeks, all schools and restaurants are expected to reopen, in time for the March 23 elections.
“The timing is right for him,” said Gideon Rahat, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Israel.
Is it sufficient to distract attention from an ongoing corruption trial? The broader economic damage caused by the pandemic is another issue.
Rahat said a lot would depend on Netanyahu’s “setting the agenda”. “He will talk about vaccines all the time,” he said, while others will focus on his mistakes over the past year.
Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs and businesses during a series of closures, and there is widespread public anger over the violation of the lockdown restrictions by the ultra-Orthodox religious community, one of Netanyahu’s main political allies. Many say Netanyahu has waited too long to close the country’s main airport, allowing the rapidly spreading variants of the virus to infect the unvaccinated.
Adhering to his text, on Saturday, Netanyahu unveiled a “green card” program, which would allow fully vaccinated people to attend cultural events, travel abroad and sponsor restaurants and health clubs. These services and facilities will remain prohibited for those who have not been immunized.
“I ask everyone who has not been vaccinated – to go get vaccinated.” “You will have the green corridor and you will also be able to benefit from it,” Netanyahu said during a photo shoot at a gym in the Tel Aviv area.
Israel has faced international criticism for having largely excluded the Palestinians In the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip from the vaccination campaign.
However, Netanyahu is said to have shown little hesitation in agreeing to pay Russia About $ 1.2 million to buy vaccines against the Corona virus, the archenemy of Syria, as part of last week’s deal to release an Israeli woman detained in Damascus.
Netanyahu boasted last week that his warm relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin helped seal the deal. His office did not refer to any vaccines, and it has reportedly pushed the country’s military oversight to prevent the purchase of the vaccine.
When asked about the said deal, Netanyahu was elusive. He said that “not a single Israeli vaccine has been delivered” to Syria – the country that is home to hostile Iranian forces. But he did not say whether Israel paid Russia for the vaccines.
“It is legitimate for the Israeli government to decide to depart from previous norms and pay with another kind of currency,” Yoav Limor, a correspondent for Israeli military affairs, wrote in Israel Hayom. However, the decision to hide it is both bewildering and troubling. Obviously, someone was very uncomfortable with this matter coming to light. “
However, Netanyahu does not appear to be deterred. An Israeli official said on Sunday that Israel is considering sharing the surplus vaccines with friendly countries. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing the internal government deliberations.
Disparities between Israel’s successful vaccination campaign with its residents and the Palestinians have drawn criticism from UN officials and human rights groups. She highlights the disparities between rich and poor countries in access to vaccines.
These groups claim that Israel is responsible for vaccinating Palestinians, while Israel has argued that it is not responsible under the interim peace agreements for vaccinating them. The Israeli vaccination campaign included its Arab population.
Ahmed Tibi, a prominent Arab lawmaker in the Israeli parliament, wrote on Twitter: “Should we wait for a Jewish man who crosses the border with Gaza to be eligible for vaccinations?”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas struggled to secure vaccines For his people. To date, he has received 2,000 doses from Israel to treat medical workers in the West Bank, and 10,000 doses from Russia.
On Sunday, a major competitor to Abbas arranged for the delivery of 20,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine from the United Arab Emirates. The move by Muhammad Dahlan, a former aide to Abbas who was forced into exile after a dispute with the Palestinian leader, appears aimed at making Abbas look weak ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled for May.
Mustafa Ibrahim, a Gaza-based writer, said that Dahlan, who supports his list of supporters in the elections, “strengthened his position and political presence” through surrender. “It is part of the campaign and it empowers the group that provides assistance.”
Associated Press correspondents Ilan Ben Tzion in Jerusalem and Faris Akram in Gaza City in the Gaza Strip contributed to this report.