Palestinians to get 3G in West Bank after Israel lifts ban

Above, a resident from the West Bank city of Hebron, takes a selfie photo with friends and relatives. Palestinian mobile data providers are expected to launch 3G broadband services in the West Bank by the end of this month after Israel assigned frequencies and allowed the import of equipment. (Reuters)
Updated 15 January 2018

Palestinians to get 3G in West Bank after Israel lifts ban

RAMALLAH, West Bank: Palestinians in the West Bank are finally getting high-speed mobile data services, after a yearslong Israeli ban that cost their fragile economy hundreds of millions of dollars, impeded tech start-ups and denied them simple conveniences enjoyed by the rest of the world.
Palestinian cell phone providers Wataniya and Jawwal are expected to launch 3G broadband services in the West Bank by the end of this month, Palestinian officials said, after Israel assigned frequencies and allowed the import of equipment.
“It’s about time,” Wataniya CEO Durgham Maraee said of the anticipated launch, speaking to The Associated Press at company headquarters in the West Bank last week. “It has taken a very, very long time.”
The belated move to 3G comes a decade after Palestinian operators first sought Israeli permits and at a time when faster 4G is increasingly available in the Middle East.
This keeps Palestinian mobile companies at a continued disadvantage, including in competition with Israeli companies that offer 3G and 4G coverage to Palestinian customers in the West Bank through towers installed in Israeli settlements. The World Bank has criticized this state of affairs because the Israeli firms do not pay license fees or taxes to the Palestinian authorities.
The Israeli ban on 3G also remains in place in the Gaza Strip, making that Palestinian territory, dominated by the militant group Hamas, one of the last without such services across the globe. Mobile Internet is available in far-flung places, from the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan to the Atlantic’s volcanic rock island of Ascension.
In blocking 3G for years, Israel has cited security concerns, without going into details. Officials suggest, for example, that high-speed mobile data could make it easier for Palestinian militants to communicate while reducing the risk of Israeli surveillance.
Israel’s Shin Bet security agency declined comment Sunday.
COGAT, an Israeli Defense Ministry branch, said it worked on implementing a 2015 memorandum of understanding with the Palestinians on 3G, and that it expects a launch in two to three weeks. Officials did not respond to questions about Israel’s yearslong ban on 3G.
Israel has delayed approval for Palestinian economic development projects in the past, leading to efforts by high-level international efforts to try to speed things along. Most recently, President Donald Trump’s Mideast team has urged Israel to make economic gestures to the Palestinians.
Palestinian officials have said they suspect such projects are being used as political leverage.
At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for so-called “economic peace” with the Palestinians, as he stepped back from offers by predecessors to negotiate the terms of an independent Palestinian state on lands Israel captured in 1967.
At Wataniya headquarters, where employees got 3G as part of pre-launch tests, the mood was upbeat.
The CEO said the 3G launch and the company’s recent expansion into Gaza, after Israel lifted restrictions on importing equipment, could translate into profits in 2018 — the first since Wataniya began operations in 2009 as the second Palestinian cellphone provider.
“The future is bright,” Maraee said.
But the company’s struggles also illustrate the difficulties faced by Palestinian entrepreneurs, large and small, as they operate under Israeli obstacles to trade, movement and access.
Israel has kept a tight grip on the daily lives of Palestinians since its 1967 capture of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, areas sought for a Palestinian state.
It annexed east Jerusalem and retains overall control of the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority, a self-rule government, administers 38 percent of the West Bank, while the remaining area, home to 400,000 Israeli settlers, is largely off-limits to Palestinian economic development.
Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but has enforced a border blockade, along with Egypt, since Hamas seized the strip in 2007. The West Bank-based Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas is trying to regain a foothold in Gaza in stop-and-go reconciliation talks with Hamas.
The World Bank has repeatedly urged Israel to unshackle the Palestinian economy to allow private sector growth, essential for lowering double-digit Palestinian unemployment.
In 2016, the bank said the Palestinian mobile phone sector lost more than $1 billion in potential earnings over the previous three years, largely due to Israeli restrictions.
It noted that Israeli providers siphoned off as much as 30 percent of the potential Palestinian customer base in the West Bank with offers of 3G and 4G services.
Maraee said Wataniya has stayed afloat in part because of the continued support of its main investors — the Qatar-based telecommunications company Ooredoo and the self-rule government’s Palestinian Investment Fund.
Wataniya is now at the break-even point, but that it once suffered losses of as much as $20 million a year, he said.
“If it wasn’t for the commitment of the PIF and the Ooredoo Group ... to the Palestinian economy, probably Wataniya would not have survived under these trying circumstances,” he said.
Smaller Palestinian entrepreneurs also expect an immediate 3G bump in business.
Ali Taha launched Rocab, an online taxi booking service, last July, but has so far captured only a tiny slice of the market. He expects a significant increase with 3G, since customers would be able to summon a ride from anywhere, instead of having to search for a location with WiFi.
Shadi Atshan, founder of the Palestinian start-up accelerator FastForward, said he expects app development to flourish and generate more Palestinian tech jobs.
For ordinary Palestinians, everyday life will get just a little easier.
Alaa Amouri, 20, a student, said she gets 4G from an Israeli provider that offers only partial coverage in the West Bank.
Mobile data from a Palestinian provider would offer real-time updates on potential trouble on the roads, said Amouri, who commutes between east Jerusalem and her West Bank university, passing through the crowded Israeli-run Qalandiya crossing almost daily.
“It (3G) helps in getting news updates,” she said. “Sometimes when we are at the Qalandiya crossing, we find it blocked without knowing why.”


Pompeo warns of ‘new turmoil’ if UN arms embargo on Iran lifted in 2020

Updated 21 August 2019

Pompeo warns of ‘new turmoil’ if UN arms embargo on Iran lifted in 2020

  • Under the Iran nuclear deal, a UN arms embargo on the country and a travel ban on Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani are due to expire next year
  • The Quds Force is the overseas arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, tagged by the US as a terrorist organization

UNITED NATIONS: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed the international community on Tuesday to work out how to stop Iran from being “unshackled to create new turmoil” when a United Nations arms embargo on the country and a travel ban on the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force expire in October 2020.
Speaking at a UN Security Council meeting on Middle East peace and security challenges, Pompeo called for greater cooperation in the region to produce “fresh thinking to solve old problems,” citing problems including the Libyan and Syrian conflicts and a rift between several Gulf states and Qatar.
He also singled out Iran. Tensions between Tehran and Washington have risen since President Donald Trump’s administration last year quit an international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and began to ratchet up sanctions.
“Since the US declared our intention to bring all Iranian oil purchases to zero in April, the Ayatollah has gone all-in on a campaign of extortion diplomacy,” he said, calling out Iran for breaching caps imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal, test-firing a ballistic missile and seizing tankers in the Strait of Hormuz.
Under the Iran nuclear deal, a UN arms embargo on the country and a travel ban on Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani are due to expire next year. The Quds Force is the overseas arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).
Pompeo said the US State Department had put a clock on its website that was counting down to the removal of the measures.
“The international community will have plenty of time to see how long it has until Iran is unshackled to create new turmoil, and figure out what it must do to prevent this from happening,” he said.
Iran’s UN ambassador, Majid Takht Ravanchi, accused the United States of causing insecurity and instability with its military presence and “unbridled flow of American weaponry into this region, which has turned it into a powder keg.”
“While we are not seeking confrontation, we cannot and will not remain indifferent to the violation of our sovereignty. Therefore, in order to secure our borders and interests, we will vigorously exercise our inherent right to self-defense,” he told the Security Council.

Council action unlikely
At a Security Council meeting in December, Pompeo urged the 15-member body to prevent Iran from working on ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, carrying out test launches and establish “inspection and interdiction measures, in ports and on the high seas, to thwart Iran’s continuing efforts to circumvent arms restrictions.”
The council has not, and is unlikely to take any action on Iran. European powers have been scrambling to salvage the nuclear deal, while diplomats say Russia and China — which are council veto powers along with the United States, France and Britain — are likely to shield Iran from any action.
The US special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, signaled earlier on Tuesday that the United States would not try to trigger a return of all international sanctions on Iran through a dispute resolution process agreed under the nuclear deal and enshrined in a 2015 UN Security Council resolution.
Although the United States quit the nuclear deal, some diplomats have questioned whether Washington might still spark a so-called snapback of sanctions on Tehran at the Security Council because the UN resolution still names it as a party to the deal.
“We’re no longer in the deal and so the parties that are still in the deal will have to make their decisions with respect to using or not using the dispute resolution mechanism,” Hook told reporters in New York. “There’s no question that Iran is in breach of the Iran nuclear deal.”