Palestinian cell service still on hold
Mobile phone service in Gaza Strip and the West Bank could spur investment – and bolster prospects for peace.
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"Everybody is talking about boosting the economy of Palestine.... But we are here sitting waiting to invest," Richardson says. "We're not asking for money. We're going to put money in the economy, we're going to create jobs.... My question is why is it taking all this time? There's a lot of money at stake."Skip to next paragraph
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In addition, making cellular phone services more competitive will lower prices among the Palestinians. Tony Blair, the former British prime minister and special envoy of the "quartet" of peacemakers has already interceded on behalf of Wataniya. This month, the quartet and Wataniya said they've been promised by the Israelis that the frequencies will be released in days.
Israel's communications ministry declined to comment when asked about the year-long delay. Suleiman Zuhairi, the Palestinian deputy minister for information technology and telecommunications, accused Israel of dragging its feet for political reasons.
In a report released last month, the World Bank estimated that the West Bank and Gaza experienced zero growth overall in 2007. At the same time, the World Bank projected growth of 3 percent for 2008 in the Palestinian territories – a pace that won't keep up with the population growth.
If the Palestinians can make their government run effectively and Israel frees up restrictions intended to hinder militants, the economy could see double-digit growth, according to the report.
The large turnout at the business conference suggests that there is an ample number of professionals who share the view that there is business to be done despite the violence.
"There's always a risk in business. There is no investment that is guaranteed," says Ayman Al-Majali, the vice chairman of the Jordan Commercial Bank, which plans a $100 million investment in the West Bank. "We want a return, but we also want to help Palestinians exit their poverty."
Despite disruptions to Palestinian life, PalTel, the Palestinian telephone monopoly, reported that profits at its mobile phone subsidiary, Jawaal, increased 50 percent from 2006 to 2007.
"People operate in crisis mode all the time, and a mobile phone is part of the survival kit," says Kamel Husseni, PalTel's corporate affairs adviser.
"I can see both sides, but I'm not a judge. I'm a businessman," he says.
And yet, Richardson can't resist pitching his philosophy on the role of telecoms could play in the Mideast: "You can't shoot a Kalashnikov if you are talking on a mobile."