Israel has tentatively agreed to permit Palestinian mobile phone companies to set up 4G/LTE mobile networks as part of a series of steps meant to strengthen the Palestinian Authority, according to a news report. The approval, which has yet to be finalized, was formally presented during a recent closed-door meeting of Israeli and Palestinian telecommunications teams.
Israel has not permitted Palestinian mobile phone providers to upgrade their networks for years, leaving most Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza with dramatically slower connections than those in Israel and much of the world. Israeli government officials have said they hope to advance initiatives to improve Palestinian daily life and that strengthening the ailing Palestinian Authority, including by allowing improved telecommunications, will help maintain stability in the area.
Israeli and Palestinian telecommunications teams held a private meeting on 14 November at which Israeli officials expressed tentative approval for the 4G/LTE upgrade, officials said.
A Palestinian official said that the Israelis had informed them that joint technical discussions would not begin until April 2022 and that the Israelis had yet to make a concrete offer of how much bandwidth would be made available to the Palestinians. A 2019 Israeli proposal was rejected by the Palestinians because it provided only a small number of frequencies.
The degree to which economic development and, by extension, civic order depend on mobile networks is highlighted by this recent move by the Israeli government. Its previous policy of restricting development of networks in the Palestinian territories was motivated by perceived security concerns, whereas the new policy intends to help bring peace through prosperity. Faster and higher-quality mobile signals in the West Bank and Gaza should have the effect of bolstering Palestinian businesses, stimulating the consumer economy and making daily life more manageable for the population in general.
In the West Bank, 3G became available only in 2018, and Gaza is still on 2G only, so the upgrade to 4G/LTE will be a very dramatic change. However, it will still leave Palestinian operators behind Israeli operators, which are already deploying 5G throughout the country. This shortfall has caused discontentment among Palestinian players, who question whether 4G would even be an economic boon. Sam Bahour, a founder of Paltel, the national Palestinian telecom operator, said, “Now we’re being asked, late in the game of 4G, to consider having the opportunity to again invest tens of millions more in this technology—now that the rest of the world has already reached 5G.” There are difference of opinion, though. Palestinian Authority Telecommunications Minister Ishaq Sidr said last month, “We’re ready, right now, to apply these technologies in the West Bank and Gaza. The sooner it happens, the better it will be for the Palestinian economy and Palestinian development.”
And yet another aspect to the question is that since Israeli cellular networks extend into Palestinian areas, many Palestinians are already using Israeli operators’ 4G and 5G services. Even with its own 4G, Paltel may face stiff competition.