Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Israel Threatens Palestinian Phone Service Over War Crimes Claims

Another possible headline could read, "Israel blackmails Palestine: Israel steals Palestinian radio frequencies and demands Palestinian Authority revoke war crimes claims before they give back the frequencies." From the Independent, via HuffPost

Israel is threatening to kill off a crucial West Bank economic project unless the Palestinian Authority withdraws a request to the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged Israeli crimes during last winter's Gaza war.

Shalom Kital, an aide to defence minister Ehud Barak, said today that Israel will not release a share of the radio spectrum that has long been sought by the Palestinian Authority to enable the launch of a second mobile telecommunications company unless the PA drops its efforts to put Israeli soldiers and officers in the dock over the Israeli operation.

Currently Palestine has one cellular phone company, Jawwal. Jawwal started in 2005 and the company Paltel, accounts for 19% of the Palestinian GDP. Four Israeli cell phone service providers have customers in Palestine. Some Palestinians carry both a Jawwal phone (cause it's cheap) and one of the Israeli companies (cause the service is sometimes better). Settlers in the West Bank (all 500,000) also are customers amongst these competing companies.

As long as the Wataniya Mobile company is unable to begin its operations, communications costs are likely to remain inordinately high for Palestinian businesses and individuals. But thwarting the company benefits four unauthorized Israeli operators who make sizeable profits in the Palestinian market using infrastructure they have set up in the illegal Israeli settlements across the West Bank.

The Qatari-owned Wataniya had begun making what was planned as the second largest private investment in West Bank history - to total seven hundred million dollars. But amid frustration at more than two years of Israeli foot-dragging over the frequencies it is now warning that if forced to miss its launch date of 15 October it may close down West Bank operations and seek the return from the Palestinian Authority of its $140m licensing fee and other damages. Mr Kital said the possibility of Wataniya closing "is something the PA will have to take into consideration."

So the blackmail is used intelligently here. The Palestinian economy is hurting and Wataniya would be a major boom to the economy. Israel has been dragging it's feet for some time but saw this UN war crimes report as a good opportunity to take an official position.

Israel's official position was this:
"It's a condition. We are saying to the Palestinians that 'if you want a normal life and are trying to embark on a new way, you must stop your incitement," Mr. Kital said. "We are helping the Palestinian economy but one thing we ask them is to stop with these embarrassing charges."
Translation: If you want a normal life, where your economy has the opportunity to expand and grow and attract investors, then stop telling the world what we are doing to you, it's that simple. I mean we are helping you in so many ways, so please stop telling the UN to go after us for war crimes, those war crimes are embarrassing and will hurt our reputation.

The Palestinian response to the issue is poignant and I will conclude with it.
"This is sheer blackmail by the Israelis," said Nabil Shaath, the former PA foreign minister. "Israel has no business stealing the frequencies, keeping them and using them as blackmail to escape an international inquiry into its violations."