Palestinian Authority threatens to block international mail

Minister blames Israeli foot-dragging on agreement for direct delivery; PA manages its own postal services but all letters pass through Israel.

Israel Post 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
Israel Post 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
The Palestinian Authority will stop sending and receiving international mail beginning next month, a Palestinian minister has warned, asserting that Israel has failed to implement a 2008 agreement that would let the PA have direct postal relations with the rest of the world.
Speaking to journalists in Ramallah on Tuesday, Communications Minister Mashhour Abu-Daqqa charged that Israel is deliberately disrupting Palestinian mail services, causing Palestinian postal services losses of over $200,000 a month. Israel's failure to comply with tax deduction and clearing mechanisms has shaken the confidence of Palestinians in their postal services, he told the Palestinian daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah.
RELATED:Hamas leader in Gaza calls on Egypt to open blockadeThe rise and fall of the Gaza blockade
The PA manages its own postal services and has issued postage stamps since 1995, but all mail to and from the Palestinian-ruled West Bank and Gaza Strip passes through Israel. In 2008, the two sides pledged to work to facilitate direct mail exchanges for Palestine through Amman, Jordan.
Mahmoud Diwan, director-general of the Palestinian Communications Ministry, said Israeli security checks make sending and receiving mail from abroad virtually impossible.
"We have no daily contact with the Israeli side," Diwan told The Media Line. "We send a taxi at our expense to Jerusalem to pick up mail sacks, but we have no idea what we will receive. The mail arrives in Ramallah with no attached documents or certificates."
Israel, however, says overseas mail is delivered promptly to the PA and said the complaints about delays is lodged every year before the annual meeting of the UPU.
“On our side, there are no delays – we transfer it the day we get it. We have no reason to hold on to it. If there are any delays, it's delays on their side,” Meirav Lapidot, a spokesperson for the government-owned Israeli Postal Company, told The Media Line. “We have no objections to their getting post directly.” 
She said there was no censorship of mail and that the only special security checks taken were for post destined for Gaza, where the PA’s writ no longer extends after the Islamic movement Hamas seized control of the area in 2007. Israel maintains a blockade on Gaza.
Israel’s Ministry of Communications is responsible for reaching an agreement with the PA, but Yehiel Shavi, its spokesperson, said he was unable to comment on the status of the talks with the PA due to the Passover holiday. Israel maintains security control over the movement of goods into and outside of the West Bank out of concerns for terrorism.
Diwan said Israel collects the fees for mail sent from third countries but that the PA bears the expenses for distributing post inside the West Bank, thus saddling the PA postal services with losses.
"We feel like a burden on the Palestinian coffers," Diwan said. "We have no resources to pay the taxi that collects our mail. Why should Israel keep the money if it is we who distribute the mail?"
As part of a series of agreements signed in the wake of the Oslo accords, both sides must ensure "the efficient transmission and delivery of postal items arriving from, or destined for foreign countries." But Diwan said that Israeli security checks affected the timely delivery of Palestinian mail to and from the Palestinian territories.
"We have nothing against security checks," he said. "We suggested picking up the mail at the border crossing with Jordan, transferring it to the Israelis for a security check and picking it up, but they refused. They insist on complete freedom to check the mail as they wish, with no time constraints."
He added that parcels often reach Palestinian clients open or torn.
Rhéal LeBlanc, communication program manager for the UPU, said a joint Israel-Palestine technical committee was dealing with the operational issues of mail distribution. The matter will be discussed during the upcoming session of the Postal Operations Council, which starts next week in Berne, Switzerland.
"Our director-general strongly encourages meetings between the Israeli and Palestinian postal authorities," LeBlanc told The Media Line.
Two years ago, the Universal Postal Union (UPU), an international organization that coordinates postal policies among member nations assigned Palestine an international mail processing center code to the PA’s Ramallah central post office.
But Diwan said a meeting between the sides last week in Tel Aviv achieved no results, leaving Abu-Daqqa no choice but to announce the unilateral Palestinian step.
“Last November we opened a post office in Nablus, attended by the American Consul General in Jerusalem," Diwan said. "He sent a package to his family in the United States for Christmas, but I told him I was not responsible for its time of arrival."
"As of last month, the package has still not arrived," Diwan said.