After huffing and puffing to blow the house down (well, to sue the Palestinian Authority, for Israel’s refusal to release sufficient telecommunications wavelengths), the Qatari and Kuwaiti-owned Wataniya mobile phone company made the surprise announcement that it had launched its service in Palestine today, just two weeks after the planned date — and despite Israel’s continuing refusal to release all the wavelengths that it had promised.
We reported earlier that Wataniya’s (second) launch date on 15 October (it was postponed once from April) was missed, due to exactly the same problem that was said to be insurmountable at the time two weeks ago, but somehow (inexplicably) became manageble today — see our previous post here.
The Ma’an News Agency reported tonight that “Mohammad Mustafa, head of the Wataniya Palestine’s board, said the firm had begun functioning with a frequency range of 3.8 MHz, less than the 4.8 MHz Israel had agreed to open under an agreement with the Palestinian Authority (PA) signed last year. ‘They will give us the additional 1 MHz as soon as possible’, Mustafa told Reuters, adding that Quartet envoy Tony Blair had promised the firm it would acquire the remaining frequency … Wataniya was further implicated in Israeli-Palestinian politics in late September when the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israeli military officials were refusing to release the frequency in order to pressure the PA to drop a war crimes case against Israel in the International Criminal Court”. This Ma’an story can be read in full here.
It is not immediately clear what, exactly, had changed to make this possible…
The Palestine Investment Fund (PIF) owns 47% — a minority — of shares in Wataniya Palestine mobile phone company, which will introduce competition into the Palestinian mobile phone market. Until now, only the Palestinian company Jawwal was operating in the occupied Palestinian territory (Gaza and the West Bank). Wataniya apparently will operate only in the West Bank, at least for now.
Wataniya will be the competitor of PALTEL – described on its website as “the national telecommunications provider in Palestine”. The website also says that “The company has an exclusive License Agreement with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to develop the telecom sector”. This description is posted here.
In addition to its 47% ownership status in Wataniya, PIF has also invested in its competitor PALTEL, and in another company (the Palestine Development and Investment Ltd., or PADICO) which has also invested in PALTEL (PADICO owns 37% of Paltel, and is currently the largest investor in PALTEL) … Earlier this year, in May, a preliminary agreement was signed for the merger of Paltel with Zain, a Kuwaiti Telecommunication Company. At the time, PADICO Chairman Munib Masri stated that said “this transaction allows Palestine mobile Telecommunication Jawwal to expand within the Palestinian territories, as it was not possible to get through previously, due to Israeli restrictions, particularly in the Jericho area; now it will help guarantee connections with the Jordan Valley”. This news was posted here.
PADICO (which the PIF has invested in, and which in turn is the largest investor in PALTEL) announced in mid-September that “it submitted an application to the Palestinian Ministry of National Economy to be registered as a foreign company in Palestine”. However, PADICO apparently has always been a foreign company in Palestine — according to its website, it is registered in Liberia. The PADICO website says that “The Palestinian Council of Ministers, on 7 September 2009 approved an amendment to income tax law no. 17 2004, which includes a clause that obliges foreign companies registered in Palestine to pay income tax on profits generated from the company’s activities outside Palestine. These amendments have been referred to President Mahmoud Abbas for ratification. This opened the door for foreign companies, including PADICO, to begin registration procedures”. The PADICO website also says that its “registration in Palestine is in line with its pioneering role as a fundamental pillar to the Palestinian economy”. And, the website reports that PADICO’s CEO, Samir Hulileh, said in mid-September that “PADICO’s decision to register in Palestine reflects its strategic commitment to investing in Palestine and building relationships based on cooperation and trust with the Government and the Ministry of National Economy”. This news can be viewed here.