Trappings of state in place as Palestinians head to UN

RAMALLAH— At the headquarters of the Palestinian postal service in the West Bank city of Ramallah, excitement is growing over the bid to see UN membership for a Palestinian state.

By (AFP)

Published: Thu 15 Sep 2011, 12:39 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:41 AM

The post office has already inked a deal to begin extricating its delivery system from Israeli supervision, and is eagerly preparing for the reality that could emerge after the Palestinians go to the United Nations next week to seek full membership for their state.

In the past, international post sent from the West Bank and Gaza was examined by Israeli inspectors who would take it to Jordan for onward delivery. A similar system was in place for incoming mail.

But under the new system, Palestinian mail will go directly to Jordan, with each item — marked with Palestinian stamps — transported in a Palestinian van and arriving at the Jordanian border without Israeli inspection.

Incoming mail is still subject to inspection, but the new system is a good start say Fathi Shabak, head of the Palestinian postal service administration.

“We’ve started to transfer mail through Jordan to the rest of the world,” he told AFP.

“Many countries still send our mail through the Israeli side, and we’re okay with that, but we want the mail to stay closed. The Israelis shouldn’t be opening our mail.”

The new system might seem like a small step, but the postal service considers it enough of a revolution to be issuing a new logo with the words: “We emerge again.”

Palestinian stamps are also getting a makeover ahead of the statehood bid.

“We’ve prepared an official stamp that says ‘Palestine’ on it, instead of ‘Palestinian Authority,’” Shabak told AFP.

The postal service is also planning to switch the currency marked on its stamps from the Jordanian dinar to the Palestinian pound, which existed before Israel’s establishment in 1948, though it is no longer in circulation.

Shabak has even designed a stamp to celebrate the United Nations bid, but he’s keeping it under wraps for now, awaiting orders from the Palestinian leadership on when it can be released for public use.

The changes under way at the post office come in the context of a broader two-year plan to prepare the Palestinians for statehood.

Championed by prime minister Salam Fayyad, the plan was intended to strengthen institutions ahead of a state which was to have emerged from negotiations.

But with talks on hold, it became a way to show the world that the Palestinians deserve the status of UN member state, and it has won plaudits from World Bank and UN officials, who say the Palestinians are ready for statehood.

At the Muqataa, the one-time home of late president Yasser Arafat which was razed by the Israeli military during the second Palestinian uprising (2000-2005), workers are putting the final touches on the renovated structure.

Officials say it will serve as the headquarters for the presidency of a new state, though they stress it is a temporary option until they can relocate to east Jerusalem where the Palestinians want to establish their capital.

In the West Bank, Palestinian police and security forces are undergoing training programmes, many of them organised by the European Union, in a bid to knock them into shape.

At Ramallah’s main bus station, artist Khaled Jarrar is engaged in his own form of state-related activity, trying to convince foreigner visitors to let him stamp their passports with a “State of Palestine” seal.

But so far, the borders of the state have not been internationally recognised, meaning the stamp has no official significance.

Jarrar, 36, began designing the stamp as part of an art project several years ago and insists the project is not connected to the current UN membership campaign.

The round seal features a picture of a Palestinian sunbird — a small coloured creature similar to a hummingbird — in flight and a floral motif with the words “State of PALESTINE” printed in English and Arabic around the edge.

As he speaks, Jarrar darts towards tourists arriving at the bus station, offering to stamp their passports although many decline for fear of incurring additional scrutiny when they go through Israeli security on their way home.

Jarrar says his project is “artistic with a political flavour.”

“I want to express our existence as Palestine despite all the barriers and checkpoints imposed on us by the Israeli government,” he says.

“To Israel there is no such thing as a State of Palestine stamp but it is our right to express our identity.”

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