« | Home | »

The Mobile Phone War

Tags: | |

In early October the Palestinian Authority dropped its draft resolution calling for a discussion of the Goldstone Report in the UN Security Council or the International Criminal Court. The 575-page report was, by all accounts, one of the most exhaustive and withering studies to date of Israeli war crimes. It also chastised the PA’s rival, Hamas, for firing rockets at Israeli civilians. The PA, which looked on at the Gaza war from distant Ramallah, would seem to have nothing to lose in light of the report’s findings, and everything to gain. Yet the PA’s chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, was persuaded that going forward with its resolution would give the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, a pretext to avoid resuming negotiations – and the resolution would, in any case, be vetoed by the Obama administration.

To the Palestinian public in the West Bank and Gaza, Abbas’s volte-face was treason, and so, two weeks later, the PA reversed itself again. ‘We have the courage to admit there was a mistake,’ said Yasir Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the PLO and a close Abbas ally, but he didn’t have the courage to explain why the mistake was made.

In the Western press, Abbas’s blunder was widely described as an act of realpolitik that backfired in the court of public opinion, but the real story may have more to do with a mobile-phone company called Wataniya, a joint venture set up by a group of investors from Kuwait and Qatar (57 per cent share) and the Palestine Investment Fund (43 per cent), whose head is Abbas’s chief economic adviser, Mohammad Mustafa. In July 2008, Tony Blair brokered a deal between the PA and Israel that would have allowed Wataniya to become Palestine’s second mobile-phone operator, with a bandwidth of 4.8 MHz; the launch date was meant to be 15 October this year.

In divided Palestine, economic development is factional politics: Wataniya had to succeed, if only to provide proof that Palestinians are better off under the PA in the West Bank than in Hamas-controlled Gaza. It’s an argument Netanyahu has also been keen to make, in the hopes that middle-class West Bankers can be bought off, the Gazans forgotten, and statehood consigned to oblivion.

But on 15 September, Richard Goldstone released his findings. According to Jonathan Cook in the National, Israel warned Abbas that unless the Palestinian Authority withdrew its draft resolution on the report, it would deny Wataniya all of its radio frequencies; the PA promptly fell into line, requesting a six-month delay on the resolution. It isn’t hard to imagine what Abbas and his associates were thinking: if the deal collapsed, the PA would have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties, and would also suffer a major loss in investment and jobs (more than 2000). Why should war crimes in Gaza get in the way of the West Bank telecommunications industry? Couldn’t this wait another six months?

The PA made its second U-turn, in response to Palestinian public opinion, on 6 October: the resolution on the Goldstone Report wouldn’t be postponed after all. On 15 October, the day Wataniya was set to launch, Israel ‘re-awarded’ it 3.8 MHz of airwave frequency spectrum. This was still 1 MHz shy of the 4.8 MHz it needs to be fully operational – Israel’s three major mobile-phone firms each have between 20 and 46 MHz. Why the shortfall? Israeli officials say it’s because the PA has failed to honour certain unnamed ‘commitments'; one of those commitments may have been deferring to its wishes on Goldstone.

Comments on “The Mobile Phone War”

  1. Camus123 says:

    It’s like the water supplies to the West bank. Israel controls the air waves and the water supplies and is intent on making sure that there is never a chance of a Palestinian state ever being set up. Colonies dotted around in a sea of Israel-controlled territory. Time for some strong words, but not, I fear from EU or Obama.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.

  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • name on Who is the enemy?: Simply stating it is correct doesn't make it so, I just wish you would apply the same epistemic vigilance to "Muslim crimes" as you do to their Hebrew...
    • Glen Newey on Unwinnable War: The legal issue admits of far less clarity than the simple terms in which you – I imagine quite sincerely – frame them. For the benefit of readers...
    • Geoff Roberts on The New Normal: The causes go back a long way into the colonial past, but the more immediate causes stem from the activities of the US forces in the name of freedom a...
    • sol_adelman on The New Normal: There's also the fact that the French state denied the mass drownings of '61 even happened for forty-odd years. No episode in post-war W European hist...
    • funky gibbon on At Wembley: If England get France in the quarter finals of Euro 16 I expect that a good deal of the fraternity will go out the window

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Edward Said: The Iraq War
    17 April 2003

    ‘This is the most reckless war in modern times. It is all about imperial arrogance unschooled in worldliness, unfettered either by competence or experience, undeterred by history or human complexity, unrepentant in its violence and the cruelty of its technology.’

    David Runciman:
    The Politics of Good Intentions
    8 May 2003

    ‘One of the things that unites all critics of Blair’s war in Iraq, whether from the Left or the Right, is that they are sick of the sound of Blair trumpeting the purity of his purpose, when what matters is the consequences of his actions.’

    Simon Wren-Lewis: The Austerity Con
    19 February 2015

    ‘How did a policy that makes so little sense to economists come to be seen by so many people as inevitable?’

    Hugh Roberts: The Hijackers
    16 July 2015

    ‘American intelligence saw Islamic State coming and was not only relaxed about the prospect but, it appears, positively interested in it.’

Advertisement Advertisement