A Mail Tale: Sorting Through the Facts on West Bank Postal Delivery

Media coverage about the lengthy delay in the delivery of 10 tons of mail sent to residents of the Palestinian Authority first appeared Aug. 14 with the Agence France Presse article (“Blocked by Israel for Years, Palestinian Mail Finally Arrives“) and continued with numerous other news items including at The New York Times, NBC, Associated Press and The Guardian, among others. Much of the coverage omitted critical information and misled about the circumstances behind the epic postage delay, leaving out, for example, that the vast majority of mail sent to West Bank Palestinians is delivered without any problem, but the complication arose due to the refusal of Arab countries to send mail via the Israeli postal service.

For instance, the headline and the relevant passages from the Guardian report by Jerusalem correspondent Oliver Holmes stated:

Israeli occupying forces [sic] have allowed 10 tonnes of mail to be handed to Palestinian postal workers after preventing the letters and parcels from entering the West Bank for up to eight years. …

A 2016 agreement that allowed Palestinians living under occupation to receive mail directly from Jordan – rather than through Israel – for the first time was never fully enacted. Israel let this shipment through in a one-time deal, officials said.

The Palestinian telecommunications minister, Allam Mousa, said Israel was still delaying the implementation of the 2016] [sic] agreement and did not allow the movement of mail directly through Jordan, and by doing so was not complying with international resolutions. …

Cogat, the defence ministry unit coordinating Israeli government activity in the West Bank, said the release was part of confidence-building measures.

The story fails to provide vital context, such as the fact that the 1995 interim agreement between Israel and the PLO includes clauses relating to postal services. 

The interim agreement includes the stipulation that the PA is entitled to use Jordanian mail services, subject to a commercial agreement allowing international mail to be transferred to the PA via Jordan. That agreement has not yet been signed. Therefore, in the absence of such an agreement, international mail must go through the Israeli Postal Service before being sent to the PA. 

Most international mail sent to Palestinians via this arrangement gets to the Palestinians without a problem. However, Arab countries boycott Israel, and won’t send postal items to the PA via the Israel Postal Service, thus preventing Palestinians from receiving mail sent from these countries.

In 2009 steps were taken to try to solve this, by the creation of a joint committee aimed at finding a solution which would allow the Palestinian Authority to use Jordanian postal services, fulfilling the terms of the 1995 agreement.

Talks dragged on for years, but in September 2016 a memorandum of understanding (in lieu of a final agreement) was signed that would eventually result in all international mail, including from Arab countries, being sent to the PA via Jordan. 

As Haaretz reported, negotiations for a final agreement continue and are at advanced stages.  However, as a goodwill gesture, COGAT last week allowed a one-time transfer of more than ten tons of mail that had been held in Jordan.

So, to recap, The Guardian – and other media outlets which reported on the mail row, including those mentioned above – mislead in one or more ways:

  • They failed to note that the 1995 Interim Agreement between Israel and the PLO includes clauses relating to postal services, requiring a formal commercial agreement between the parties which has not yet been reached.
  • They omitted relevant context about the Arab boycott of the Israeli Postal Service. If not for the boycott, mail from Arab countries sent to the PA would be delivered via the Israeli Postal Service just like mail sent from the rest of the world.
  • The article also falsely suggests that Israel is not implementing a deal between COGAT and the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs when, in fact, a final deal hasn’t yet been signed.  
  • The article also erroneously leaves the impression that the mail was in Israel for the past ten years, rather than in Jordan.

A version of this post originally appeared at CAMERA’s UK Media Watch. H/t Tomer Ilan