Israel thwarts Palestine's telco expansion

Israeli army prevents Paltel from deploying fibre to West Bank villages.
Dr. Abudaka said all attempts to reach an agreement with Israeli authorities had failed.
Dr. Abudaka said all attempts to reach an agreement with Israeli authorities had failed.

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Israel is thwarting attempts by Palestine’s telecoms regulator, the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology (MTIT), to extend telecoms services to remote villages.

The Israeli army has prevented Paltel, Palestine’s incumbent telecom operator, from laying fibre optic cable to numerous villages that fall in so called “Area C” parts of the West Bank, according to Dr. Mashhour Abudaka, head of Palestine’s (MTIT).

“Already the army has interfered in places south of Bethlehem. When Paltel was digging fibre to one of the villages, the army intervened and stopped them,” Abudaka said.

He added that Paltel complained to the MTIT that Israel was preventing it from laying fibre to about 10 villages, including Jurat ash Sham'a, Wadi Al-Nees, Umm Salamuna, Al-Ma'sarah, Marah Moa'la and Khirbet Alhaddadah, which are close to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Under its licencing agreement, Paltel must provide 99% of all Palestinian areas with high speed internet access by the end of 2011.

“Israel is not allowing Paltel to dig and provide [internet] access. The telephone lines are very old, and some households don’t have telephones at all,” Abudaka added. “Many students live in these villages and they rely on broadband.”

“They [Israel] are not doing anything about it or allowing Paltel to do anything about it.”

Abudaka added that efforts from the regulator to discuss the issue with the Israeli civil administration had failed.

“We met them and have discussed with them before, but they never came up with a reply,” he said.

Furthermore, the Israeli authorities “are not even meeting or talking” to the MTIT since the Palestinian National Authority started action to gain recognition as a nation state from the United Nations, according to Abudaka.

“Everything is on hold until the end of September when we find out the consequences of going to the United Nations,” he said.

He added that if the PNA’s application for statehood is successful, the country would be able to take Israel to international courts over the issue, and to prevent Israeli mobile operators from offering services illegally in Palestine.

“We will immediately move to international courts and take Israeli providers to whatever court will get us our rights and stop them operating in the Palestinian area after 1967,” he said.

“We have tried everything in the book to convince them that we are entitled to the services and technology that they have, but we have failed. I think we have no alternative but to go to international courts.”

Palestine has two telecom operators, Paltel and Wataniya Palestine, which launched GSM services in the West Bank in 2009.

Palestine had 383,386 fixed-line connections at the end of the second quarter 2011, according Paltel’s second quarter results.

Wataniya and Jawwal, the mobile arm of Paltel, had 2,603,582 prepaid mobile users combined at the end of 2010, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

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