(photo credit: Associated Press)
The US and EU boycott of the new Hamas cabinet has negatively affected the Palestinian embassies around the world, bringing some of them to a complete state of paralysis, Ibrahim Khraisheh, a senior official in the Palestinian Authority's Foreign Ministry, said on Monday.
He said many countries have been boycotting the embassies since the Hamas cabinet was sworn in late last month.
"Many of these countries, especially in Europe, have been summoning our diplomats to ask them who they were reporting to - Hamas or President Mahmoud Abbas," he said.
"Clearly, these countries want to have contacts with President Abbas and not Foreign Minister [and Hamas leader] Mahmoud Zahar. The Palestinian Authority is keen on maintaining good relations with all countries." Khraisheh revealed that international organizations, including UNRWA, have also been boycotting his ministry since Hamas took over. Unlike previous years, UNRWA did not invite representatives of the PA Foreign Minister to an annual meeting that was held last week, he said.
"The Palestinian embassies are facing a legal problem," the official added. "On the one hand, these embassies were established by and represent the PLO; on the other hand, a new law that was passed by the Palestinian Legislative Council grants the Foreign Ministry a key role in running the embassies. When the ambassadors went to their host countries, they stressed that they were there as representatives of the PLO." He said the crisis actually began under former PA chairman Yasser Arafat, who was forced, under international pressure, to cede control over many of his powers to the PA cabinet.
These powers included responsibility for the PLO's 88 embassies around the world.
At least 140 countries have recognized the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians. The new Hamas cabinet, however, has refused to follow suit, questioning the PLO's claim that it represents all Palestinians.
PA officials disclosed over the weekend that many of the embassies had gone bankrupt because of mismanagement and corruption and the refusal of Arab and EU governments to provide the PA with financial aid. Most of the embassy workers have not received salaries since last November and some have even been evicted from their homes for failing to pay rent.
Most of the Palestinian diplomats and ambassadors are affiliated with Fatah and some have been serving in their jobs for over three decades. According to sources in Ramallah, the diplomats have refused to cooperate with their new boss [Zahar], arguing that they were under the jurisdiction of the PLO and Abbas.
Zahar's first days in office have been marred by a number of embarrassing incidents. The first was linked to a controversial letter that he sent to UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan informing him that Hamas would accept a two-state solution. It later transpired that there were two different versions of the letter.
Zahar's office distributed one version to Palestinian journalists, which did not include two phrases from the copy that Annan received. The paragraph that reads: "The acts of the Israeli occupationâ€¦will terminate any hopes for settlement and peace on the basis of a two-state-solution" was missing the last four words."
Moreover, in the concluding paragraph of one letter, Zahar wrote: "We look forward to live in peace and security and for our people to live in freedom, independence, and good life side by side to the rest of our neighbors in this holy part of the world" - yet in the Palestinian version no mention of any neighbors was made.
The second incident, which has seriously embarrassed the PA, occurred after Zahar met with the Chinese ambassador in the Gaza Strip.
Following the meeting, Zahar announced that he had just been invited to visit China.
A few hours later, a spokesman of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied any plans to invite Zahar, saying the announcement was perhaps based on "inaccurate or unclear information."