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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

Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling

Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Starbucks has dropped plans to require that U.S. workers get the COVID vaccine or submit to weekly testing, the company announced Tuesday in a memo to employees.

Why it matters: The company's decision comes in response to the Supreme Court's ruling last week to block the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

3 hours ago - World

Netanyahu plea talks enter crunch time

Netanyahu (right) meets with his lawyer ahead of a court hearing last February. Photo: Reuven Casto/Pool/AFP via Getty

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's opposition leader and former prime minister, is negotiating a possible plea deal over the corruption charges against him, but Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit appears to be toughening his terms.

Why it matters: Mandelblit leaves office on Jan. 31. Negotiations could continue beyond that point, but the next attorney general may be less interested in quickly reaching a deal.

4 hours ago - Health

Omicron hits American hospitals disproportionately hard

Expand chart
Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

America is seeing more COVID hospitalizations than other wealthy countries during the Omicron surge, according to Our World in Data.

Why it matters: Vaccines keep the vast majority of COVID cases out of the hospital, but vaccination rates are also lower in the U.S. than these other countries.