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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Israel playing hardball with the 'Palestinians' over cell phones?

Haaretz reports that Israel is playing hardball with the 'Palestinians,' threatening to withhold approval for a second cellular company unless the 'Palestinian Authority' drops a 'war crimes' suit it has filed with the International Court of Justice in the Hague as a result of Operation Cast Lead.
Israel has warned the Palestinian Authority that it would condition permission for a second cellular telephone provider to operate in the West Bank - an economic issue of critical importance to the PA leadership - on the Palestinians withdrawing their request at the International Court.

The issue of a second cellular provider is at the center of talks between the PA, the international Quartet, and Israel, and has been ongoing for some months. Currently the sole provider is Pal-Tel, and the PA prime minister, Salam Fayyad, considers the introduction of another carrier as an important step in improving the civilian infrastructure in the West Bank. The project is central to Watanya, the company that is set to serve as the second provider, and profits are expected to be substantial.

However, if the project is not approved by October 15, the PA will be forced to pay a penalty estimated at $300 million, the sum that has already been invested in licensing and infrastructure.

Western diplomats, including the Quartet's envoy to the region, former British prime minister Tony Blair, and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, James Cunningham, have made it clear to senior Israeli officials that time is running out, and have urged them to allow for the establishment of a second provider to go forward.
There are reasons other than a potential 'war crimes' trial that would make Israel interested in blocking the 'Palestinian Authority' from going forward with the second cell phone company.
Israel's objections begin with the issue of transmission frequencies. The frequencies that the Palestinians want the new company to use are very close to ones used by the Israel Defense Forces in some of its most sensitive activities.
But Haaretz claims that it's the 'war crimes' threat that has become the sticking point for the cellular phone license.
In light of this tension, the chief of staff conditioned his approval of a second cellular provider to the Palestinians' withdrawing their appeal to the court.

"The PA has reached the point where it has to decide whether it is working with us or against us," senior figures in the defense establishment have said. At the PA it is being said, in response to the Israeli demands, that Abbas and Fayyad will water down their appeal to the ICJ, though they will refuse to promise that it will rescinded entirely.
It's not clear to me from the story why Israeli approval is required at all - I suppose that Israel has the power to block the frequencies if it doesn't approve. Nevertheless, the real point here is the one that the 'senior figures' in the defense establishment make: The 'Palestinian Authority' has to decide which side it's on. So far, it seems to be on Hamas' side and on the side of anyone else who is attempting to vilify the Jewish state. Considering that any progress the 'Palestinians' make is dependent on Israeli goodwill, that may not be the wisest strategy.

There's a lengthy Haaretz report explaining the background of the dispute here.


At 12:50 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

When something comes into the public sphere, the Arabs will not agree to any compromise.

At 5:21 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Agreed. Israel should not back down. If the PA wants to enlist in Hamas' war against Israel, that's its business. But it shouldn't expect Israel to pay for it.

What could go wrong indeed


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