The Invention of a Legal Obligation for Israel to Vaccinate Palestinians Betrays Resentment at the Successes of the Jewish State

March 25, 2021 | Eugene Kontorovich
About the author: Eugene Kontorovich is a professor at George Mason University Antonin Scalia School of Law, director of its Center for International Law in the Middle East, and a scholar at the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem.

On March 12, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown, and two other senators sent a formal letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him to pressure Jerusalem into providing vaccines to Palestinians, claiming that the Jewish state has a duty to do so under international law. Other members of Congress have made similar statements as well. But, Eugene Kontorovich explains, international law requires no such thing:

The central source of international law is treaties—agreements between the parties. While treaties often do not address many specific questions, in this case, there is a clearly applicable international agreement that directly addresses the vaccine issue—the Oslo Accords. . . . Oslo provides that “Powers and responsibilities in the sphere of health in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will be transferred to the Palestinian sides.” It also makes clear that this includes vaccination.

Because Oslo directly contradicts their claim, the vaccination-obligation exponents base their argument exclusively on Article 56 of the [1950] Fourth Geneva Convention, which was quoted extensively in the senators’ letter. . . . First, the contention that the Geneva Convention supplants Oslo is preposterous—it makes much of the latter agreement a dead letter, something none of these “experts” argued when Oslo was first signed. But even if one thinks the Geneva Convention is relevant, it clearly does not require Israel to supply the Palestinians with vaccines.

Kontorovich shows in detail why this is so, and then turns to the question of how such baseless interpretations get passed off as international law by people who should know better:

The claim of Israeli responsibility for vaccinating the Palestinian populace was never made before Israel achieved global renown for its rapid vaccine rollout program. The accusations against Israel now are designed to besmirch and belittle this remarkable achievement. But absolutely nothing in the Geneva Convention says that [Palestinian must be vaccinated at] the speed of the fastest country on earth. This idea is baseless and preposterous. In fact, the Palestinian Authority is receiving vaccines at roughly the same speed as are comparable governments.

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