Palestinians and Israelis show peace is attainable with coordinated COVID-19 response
Palestinian and Israeli authorities are being praised by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), for maintaining “a close, unprecedented cooperation on efforts aimed at containing” the novel coronavirus. The collaboration has included regular meetings, Israeli training of Palestinian medical teams, and donation of testing kits and Personal Protection Equipment (PPEs) to the West Bank and Gaza.
Like all other world governments facing the COVID-19 pandemic, Israel must have realized this threat cannot be held back by walls or checkpoints, but by making sure that Palestinians stay virus-free.
The Palestinians, for their part, seem to have understood that their health depends on cooperating with the Israeli government. But old habits die hard.
Perhaps Palestinian militant group Hamas felt ashamed of coordinating with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and of accepting Israeli testing kits and other aid. To save face, Hamas arrested Palestinian peace activists in Gaza for organizing an online conference call with Israeli proponents of peace. Hamas accused the Gazan activists of “normalization with Israel” and “treason.”
Not to be outdone by Hamas, PA media started airing reports that 73 percent of infected cases in the West Bank had come either from Israeli troops in the Palestinian Territories or from Palestinians working in Israel. One in five West Bankers work in Israel or Israeli settlements.
Israeli authorities reportedly “fumed” over the Palestinian media reports and sent the PA a stern message to cut out “the incitement.”
Politicking aside, with Israel’s support, the Palestinian response to the global coronavirus pandemic seems to be ahead of the curve, especially when compared to other Levantine countries.
According to the website Worldometer, Palestine has so far tested 3,400 Palestinians for every one million of its population, which outperforms Lebanon, at 2,257, and neighboring Jordan, at 2,009.
Palestinian testing lags behind Israel, at 13,600 per one million, but judging by reports of death cases, the Palestinians seem to outperform Israel. Palestine so far registered only two cases deaths compared to Israel’s 110. Worldometer's "death per 1 million” is currently 14 in Israel and 0.4 in Palestine.
Israel does not seem to have had its response to the coronavirus completely figured out, as the outbreak has seemingly gotten out-of-hand. But despite its troubles, Israel appears to have realized that combating the epidemic is impossible without eradicating it among both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Deadly viruses affect people indiscriminately - both Israelis and Palestinians.
Since the signing of the first Oslo Accord in 1993, cooperation between the Palestinians and the Israelis has — almost always — resulted in good results for both sides, especially when coordination took place behind closed doors.
It is only when both parties find themselves in front of cameras that goodwill turns into hateful words and incitement. Perhaps leaders on both sides reason that their respective populations expect hatred and conflict instead of love and peace.
Perhaps, like most other leaders around the globe, some Palestinian leaders found it expedient to scapegoat Israel, as a way of hiding their subpar performance. But good leadership is not about popularity. Good leaders take whatever measures they deem to be in the best interest of their people, even if such measures prove to be unpopular.
Coordination between the Palestinians and the Israelis may be on its way to help avert a disaster among Palestinians. Should the PA and Hamas decide to expand their cooperation with Israel over other matters of immediate interest to the Palestinians — such as infrastructure, freedom of movement and economics — while differing about contentious political matters — like sovereignty — Palestinians might be able to alleviate their miserable living conditions.
Former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad - arguably one of the best to have governed Palestinians and under whose watch the West Bank economy jumped by leaps and bounds - was the godfather of the policy of alleviating Palestinian suffering now and sorting out sovereign issues with Israel later.
Hamas, for its part, sees things in the totally opposite way: Sovereignty and imagined “national dignity” trumps all other matters, including the livelihood of Palestinians. According to Hamas, Palestinians should die for sovereignty, not sacrifice sovereignty in order to improve their abysmal quality of life.
The current coordination between Israel and the Palestinian territories shows that allowing the Palestinians to live a good life is not impossible. The sooner the two sides realize it is in their best interests to defuse the ticking time bomb of an increasingly impoverished and desperate Palestinian populace, the better.
Hussain Abdul-Hussain is an Iraqi-Lebanese columnist and writer. He is the Washington bureau chief of Kuwaiti daily al-Rai and a former visiting fellow at Chatham House in London. He tweets @hahussain.