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Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Secretary of State Tony Blinken asked his Israeli counterpart in their phone call on Monday for Israel to facilitate the transfer of COVID-19 vaccines to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli officials told me.

Driving the news: On Tuesday, the Israeli prime minister’s office announced that Israel has decided to send a "symbolic amount" of vaccines to the Palestinian Authority and to several countries that have asked for assistance.

  • The prime minister’s office said the Palestinians will get several thousand vaccine doses for medical teams.
  • A similar number of doses will be given to several other countries like Honduras, which sent a plane to pick up the vaccines. The vaccines will be taken from a supply of 100,000 Moderna doses that Israel purchased but hasn’t yet used.

Why it matters: Israel has enhanced its assistance to the Palestinians on COVID-19 in recent weeks after facing criticism in the international media.

  • Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki said in a Zoom speech at the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council on Monday that Israel has refused to give vaccines to the Palestinians or even allow vaccine shipments from abroad to enter the West Bank and Gaza.
  • Israel claims this criticism is false and politically motivated.

The big picture: The Biden administration is seeking to improve the situation on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza and to gradually build trust between Israelis and Palestinians. Biden administration officials believe fighting COVID-19 could be a basis for positive cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians.

Driving the news: Blinken and Ashkenazi discussed Iran and other regional issues on their phone call, but COVID-19 cooperation with the Palestinians was raised by the secretary of state as a specific action item.

  • Israeli officials told me Ashkenazi stressed to Blinken that Israel is the country that has vaccinated the highest number of Palestinians in the world so far, pointing to 300,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem who receive health services from Israel.
  • Ashkenazi told Blinken Israel has given a few hundred vaccine doses to the Palestinians from its national supply, allowed a shipment of Sputnik V vaccines from Russia to enter the West Bank, and allowed part of this shipment into Gaza. Ashkenazi told Blinken Israel is also considering vaccinating around 75,000 Palestinians who work in Israel.
  • State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to comment. In a briefing on Friday, Price said the U.S. believes "it’s important for Palestinians to achieve increased access to COVID vaccines in the weeks ahead."

What next: Last Friday, a delegation of senior officials from the Israeli Ministry of Health visited Ramallah for talks with their Palestinian counterparts. One of the issues discussed was for Israel to give the Palestinians 100,000 doses of vaccines from its national supply to vaccinate medical teams and people over the age of 60.

Go deeper

Women politicians are under siege

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Kevin Dietsch, Stefani Reynolds, and Alex Wong/Getty Images

Women in Congress feel besieged and singled-out amid surging threats against lawmakers at all levels, with some frustrated more hasn't been done to halt the trend.

Why it matters: As record numbers of American women are being elected to public office, their growing political power is being met with death and rape threats, sexist and racist abuse and online disinformation. Collectively, it's discouraged women from running for office.

New report hits DOJ over lack of police shooting data

Demonstrations followed the shooting of Dijon Kizzee by Los Angeles Sheriff's deputies in 2020. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

A new government accountability report says the Department of Justice failed to consistently publish an annual summary of police excessive force data from 2016 to 2020, as required by federal law.

Why it matters: The data is crucial for the DOJ to monitor excessive force cases, and used to investigate law enforcement agencies with patterns of abuse. The DOJ can pivot off it to pursue court action to force reforms.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congressional leaders clinch support for crucial defense bill, debt limit votes

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer passes waiting reporters on Tuesday. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Congress has found a shortcut to pass its annual defense funding bill and raise the debt limit.

Driving the news: The House will vote Tuesday night on two major bills — one creating a one-time, fast-track process for the Senate to raise the debt ceiling with just 51 votes, and another passing its annual defense bill.