Telecommunication opens up opportunities for Palestinians, but also challenges

‘Israel only allowed the use of 3G services in order to better spy on Palestinians.’ (Reuters)
Updated 09 May 2017

Telecommunication opens up opportunities for Palestinians, but also challenges

AMMAN: For years, Palestinians have been asking Israel to release their telecommunication equipment so that they can provide their mobile customers with high-speed mobile.
Israel had insisted that its refusal to allow Palestinians to use the latest technologies was based purely on security concerns.
Mashour Abudaka, former Palestinian minister of telecommunications, told Arab News that the Israeli justifications were illogical.
“The real reasons for the ban were economic and not security. They wanted to help Israeli mobile phone companies that had the 3G technology to benefit by having Palestinians buy their services.”
Abudaka elaborated why the Israeli security argument makes little sense: “All phones use the international gateway which Israel controls. You can’t make a call or have data transferred without going through the Internet and telephone equipment that it controls.”
In 2013, the Israeli reluctance to allow Palestinians high-speed mobile connectivity was raised during the visit of former US President Barack Obama.
When Obama was visiting Ramallah, a group of Palestinians put up three huge billboards that spoke directly to him: “Don’t bring your smartphone with you when you come to Ramallah, we have no 3G in Palestine.”
While it was a powerful campaign, it failed to make Israelis budge from their position; they continued to refuse to allow the two licensed Palestinian mobile phone companies to own and operate newer technology.
A Palestinian-Israeli official agreement signed recently removes the last Israeli obstacle that has held up the release of 3G equipment, which has been lying in Israeli warehouses for years.
Abudaka believes that the Israelis agreed to allow 3G as part of their phasing out of older technology, as their companies are moving on to 4G.
In order to understand the background to this decision, one has to go back to the initial Israeli-Palestinian agreement that was expected to usher in the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators agreed, in the context of the 1993 Oslo Accords and the various agreements thereafter, to share the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes frequencies for television, radio and mobile services.
A joint technical committee (JTC) was set up to discuss each side’s requirements.
Palestinians were to present their spectrum needs, and the JTC was to fulfill them within a month. In practice, however, little was achieved.
Ala Alaeddin, CEO of Intertech Co, and activists in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector told Arab News that the new 3G technology will give a great boost to Palestinian IT entrepreneurs.
“It will allow creative Palestinian talents to program many mobile applications that can now be used since data will be available on Palestinian handsets,” he said.
Since Palestine is highly wired and most people own smartphones, Alaeddin believes that many services will benefit from the availability of 3G in Palestine.
“New companies will enter this sector and benefit from the availability of data exchange on the go. Transport companies like Uber and Careem will be able to operate in Palestine now and banks will be able to offer banking services for Palestinian clients on the go.”
Former minister Abudaka, who is now working as an IT consultant, told Arab News that Israel increased the power it gave to the Palestinian mobile companies. “The companies asked for 5GEM and the Israelis gave them 10 GEM, but this was divided into two parts. The mobile company gets 5GEM for exclusive use in the urban areas, while it gets to share 5GEM in areas that border Jewish settlements.”
According to Abudaka, Palestinians traveling from Ramallah to Nablus would use the exclusive frequencies when they are within the two cities, but will use the shared frequencies once outside the city limits.
This issue was not easily resolved because both Israelis and Palestinians wanted to control the coverage in these outlying areas.
Abudaka said the problem was resolved when the two sides agreed to allow the Swedish company Ericsson to manage the shared airspace.
While many Palestinian IT entrepreneurs were celebrating the breakthrough, some were skeptical about the Israeli intentions.
Ghassan Abdallah, a math professor at Bir Zeit University, told Arab News that Israel only allowed the use of 3G services in order to better spy on Palestinians.
“Once they were able to completely control the workings of 3G to monitor Palestinians, they allowed the mobile companies to use it.”
Abdallah, however, believes that Palestinians should figure this out and create alternative technology to stop any attempts at prying into their information and movements.
Since Obama saw that sign in 2013, the World Bank estimates that the Palestinian economy has incurred a $1 billion loss in revenues.
The World Bank report, issued on April 1, cited the competitive advantage Israeli companies with 3G and 4G have over the Palestinian market.
As Palestinian telephone companies started being able to provide this new service to their customers, Palestinians began a campaign against Israeli cellphone companies.
The Palestinian government resolved to stop local merchants from selling Israeli SIM cards.
The introduction of 3G technology will boost the Palestinian economy and provide much faster connectivity to Palestinians, but with the new technology come complicated agreements that tend to make Palestinians more dependent on Israel, rather than less.
Palestinian aspirations to a totally independent and sovereign state include not only control over land but also over the airwaves that, until now, are in the hands of the Israeli occupiers.
The 3G breakthrough illustrates both the accomplishments and the challenges faced by the Palestinians in their ongoing struggle for independence.

Treasury Secretary: US ‘could not be happier’ with Bahrain outcome

Updated 27 June 2019

Treasury Secretary: US ‘could not be happier’ with Bahrain outcome

  • Mnuchin confident of raising the first $4 billion soon

MANAMA: Jared Kushner’s “workshop” aimed at securing economic prosperity for Palestine closed with optimistic forecasts from President Donald Trump’s special adviser that it could be the basis for a forthcoming political deal with Israel.

Kushner told journalists at a post-event briefing: “I think that people are all leaving very energized, very pleasantly surprised at how many like-minded people they see. It is a solvable problem economically, and the reason why we thought it was important to lay out the economic vision before we lay out the political vision is because we feel we need people to see what the future can look like.

“The Palestinian people have been promised a lot of things over the years that have not come true. We want to show them that this is the plan, this is what can happen if there is a peace deal.”

The next stage, before a political deal is attempted, will be to get feedback from the event and agree to commitments for the $50 billion package for Palestine and other regional economies.

“I think you need $50 billion to really do this the right way, to get a paradigm shift,” Kushner added.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “I could not be happier how this has gone,” adding that he was “highly confident we will soon have the first $4 billion. It’s going to be like a hot initial public offering.”

Most of the attendees at the event in Manama, Bahrain, gave Kushner’s economic proposals a serious hearing and agreed it was a useful exercise. Mohammed Al-Shaikh, Saudi minister of state, said: “Can it be done? Yes it can, because it was done before. In the mid-1990s to about the year 2000 there was a global coordinated effort by the US and other countries. I was at the World Bank at the time. I saw it. If we could do it then with significantly less money we can do it again.”

Others warned, however, that there was still a long way to go on the political aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Tony Blair, the former British prime minister and Middle East peace envoy, said a political deal was essential.

“This is an economic plan that, if it is implemented, is going to do enormous good for the Palestinian people. But it isn’t a substitute for the politics. There will be no economic peace. There will be a peace that will be a political component and an economic component. The economy can help the politics and the politics is necessary for the economy to flourish.

“The politics has got to be right in this sense as well. The obvious sense people talk about is how do you negotiate the contours of the boundaries of a Palestinian state in a two state solution,” Blair said.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, highlighted the work the fund has done in conflict situations. “We had an exceptional result in Rwanda, and a good economic outcome in Mozambique,” she said. But she contrasted this with disappointing results in other African conflicts.

Lagarde said that the aim of the economic plan should be to create jobs. “The focus should be on job-intensive industries, like agriculture, tourism and infrastructure.”

Willem Buiter, special economic adviser to US banking giant Citi, said there were obstacles to the Kushner plan succeeding. “Necessary conditions for any progress are peace, safety and security. And there must be high-quality governance and the rule of law in Palestine,” he said.


• Jared Kushner believes the conflict is a ‘solvable problem economically.’

• The senior adviser vows to lay out political plans at the right time.

• Expert urges external funding in the form of grants or equity, rather than loans.

He also suggested external funding should be in the form of grants or equity, rather than loans. “We should not burden a country trying to escape from its past with high debts,” he added.

Some attendees warned of the risks to investor funds in the current political situation in the Middle East. 

But Khalid Al-Rumaihi, chief executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, said: “Risk is not new to the region. We’ve tackled it for the past 30 to 40 years, but that has not stopped investment flowing in.

“Investors trade risk for return, and the Middle East has learned to cope with risk and conflict. There are pockets where the risk is high and Palestine is one of them. But I remain positive. The return in the region is higher to compensate for the risk,” he added.

At a session of regional finance ministers, Mohammed Al-Jadaan of Saudi Arabia said: “The region is in desperate need of prosperity and hope. There is a way forward, but you need political commitment.”

UAE Finance Minister Obaid Al-Tayer added: “We are decoupling politics from economics. If it’s the only initiative on the table we should all give it a chance.”