"Over the past month, a limited quantity of unused vaccines was accumulated; therefore, it has been decided to assist Palestinian Authority medical teams and several of the countries that contacted Israel with a symbolic quantity of vaccines," the statement said.
The announcement did not say how many doses would be donated or name the recipient countries. Israeli media, citing diplomatic sources, said they included Honduras and Guatemala, which have opened embassies in Jerusalem. Also on the list reportedly were Hungary, which recently opened a trade mission in the city, and the Czech Republic, which has said it intends to open a diplomatic office of some kind there soon. Jerusalem is claimed as a capital by both Israel and the Palestinians.
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment.
Using vaccine as an apparent diplomatic reward was criticized by some public health experts and by Netanyahu’s opponents.
"The fact that Netanyahu trades in vaccines funded by Israeli taxpayers without discussion and accountability shows that he is running a kingdom and not a country," said Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who will oppose Netanyahu in elections next month.
Vaccine was also apparently a bargaining chip in a recent prisoner swap between Israel and Syria. In exchange for the return of an Israeli woman who illegally crossed the Syrian border, Israel reportedly agreed to pay for thousands of doses of the Russian Sputnik vaccine to be delivered to Damascus.
The portion of vaccine sent for Palestinian health workers follows criticism from human rights groups that Israel should do more to inoculate populations in the territories it controls. Israel contends that the 30-year-old Oslo accords leave health care to the governing Palestinian bodies, although it did send 5,000 doses to West Bank hospital workers earlier this month.
Israeli health officials have said they hope to provide more vaccine to the Palestinian territories as Israel’s vaccine needs are met. The Palestinian health minister said Saturday that her counterparts in Israel agreed to provide up to 100,000 shots for Palestinian workers who regularly cross into Israel to work.
Israel has yet to publicly confirm that arrangement. A public health adviser to the government said Wednesday that the plans were still being finalized. The symbolic donation announced Tuesday is apparently unrelated to that larger effort.