The novel coronavirus is already impacting various aspects of Israeli policy and political life. While many Israelis fear the effects that COVID-19 could have on their health and on their security, the unprecedented situation has given room for tighter cooperation with the Palestinians. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority are taking measures to try to contain local transmission of the disease President Reuven Rivlin spoke last week with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, stating that “The world is dealing with a crisis that does not distinguish between people or where they live,” adding “the cooperation between us is vital to ensure the health of both Israelis and Palestinians.” Given the circumstances, Israeli-Palestinian cooperation has been given new relevance, showing that the wellbeing of both peoples is interconnected.

Israeli-Palestinian cooperation increased as soon as the West Bank was hit with its first reported cases of coronavirus at the beginning of March. Palestinian COVID-19 samples of those who were infected by the virus were sent to Israeli laboratories for testing. At the same time, Israel and the Palestinian Authority were quietly forging an agreement that would allow workers from the West Bank to enter Israel. Palestinian workers are key to maintaing Israeli infrastructure, thus an estimated 70,000 workers from the West Bank who are employed in constructuction, agriculture and other sectors are being lodged in Israel for the next two months to ensure that some of these processes continue. Another 10,000 Palestinians laborers will also continue their work in Israeli settlements. The goal of such an agreement is to prevent the collapse of construction factories and will also limit movement between Israel and the West Bank to reduce the risk of infection. As the Israeli military controls the borders of the West Bank, the IDF has authority over who comes and leaves the territory, further reducing interaction between the two populations.

Last week, Gaza saw its first two confirmed cases of coronavirus. Israel has a strong interest in ensuring that the disease does not become widespread in the Strip, as this could carry severe consequences for Israel. If the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the Strip, Gaza will most likely turn to Israel to help alleviate the situation. This could be devastating for Israel’s already limited resources, and the further detoratition of the Strip will be blamed on the Israeli government by the international community. In addition,  working with Hamas is delicate, as the potential of an escalation on the border is present. While Hamas’ current focus is limiting the spread of COVID-19 in the Strip, starting an escalation could be viewed as their attempt to garner more resources. 

Gaza’s two million residents, living under a blockade, have long faced water and sanitation challenges, with a shortage of potable water for drinking, cooking, and hygiene, as well as a lack of wastewater sanitation. Although these issues are not new, Gaza’s deteriorating infrastructure, strict limitations on the import of materials and water pumps, and an unreliable energy supply may accelerate the spread of the virus, especially considering the importance of hand washing . 

Owing to these issues, Israel sent a small number of corona test kits to the Strip, and set up communication channels between health officials in Gaza and in Israel. What will unravel in Gaza over the next couple of weeks will be of great importance for Israel. 

These unusual circumstances have prompted very strong Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. Israelis and Palestinians rely on each other to keep the economy going and to maintain public health and safety. Hopefully Israeli and Palestinian leaders will look to this moment in history to encourage greater cooperation in the future, not just under extraordinary circumstances, but everyday.