Israel signed an agreement Thursday with the Palestinian Authority paving the way for the deployment of high-speed 3G cellular service by Palestinian cellular companies, dialing down a long-standing complaint that Israel was restricting access to faster mobile Internet speeds.
Palestinian Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh and Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai signed a “memorandum of understanding” Thursday morning that officials said would mean 3G service, used as a standard in much of the world, could be available to Palestinians in three to six months.
Under the terms of the Oslo Accords that regulate the relationship between Israel and the autonomous Palestinian Authority, Israel regulates the frequencies available to cell companies in Palestinian-ruled areas, but is required to allow Palestinian communications infrastructure that is separate from Israel’s.
The opening of 3G frequencies to Palestinian companies Wataniya and Jawwal has long been a demand of Palestinian officials and activists.
Palestinians companies have been forced to offer only much-slower 2G speeds, throttling data flow to Palestinians’ mobile phones and choking off easy access to social media and other online activities.
In August, Israel and the PA reached a “breakthrough” when Israel’s Communications Ministry agreed in principle to open up the faster cellular frequencies to Palestinian companies.
Officials did not provide details about the content of Thursday’s agreement, but Israel said in a statement from Mordechai’s office that the decision to approve the frequencies “was made after examination by the security establishment and the completion of professional staff work with the Israeli Communications Ministry.”
Palestinian communications infrastructure, both between Gaza and the West Bank and between the West Bank and the rest of the world, travels through Israeli networks and territory. Israel demonstrated its ability to intervene in this infrastructure during the summer 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza, when the IDF sent mass text messages to Gazans warning of airstrikes or delivering anti-Hamas messages.
Experts have noted that 3G networks are less prone to such interventions and surveillance than the existing Palestinian 2G network, leading to questions over whether the Israel-PA negotiations leading to the opening of the frequencies includes a security agreement between the sides.
The Palestinian Authority’s minister of telecommunication, Allam Mousa, told Reuters in August, when negotiations toward the now-signed agreement were getting underway, that “some proposals were made [by Israel] in accordance with our demands and some amendments were made that could be studied and that could enable us to achieve our demands.”
Officials were also mum Thursday on what the agreement might mean in practical terms for residents of the Gaza Strip, who live outside of both PA and Israeli control following the 2007 coup by Hamas that drove the PA out of the coastal territory.
Jawwal launched its 2G service in the West Bank in 1998, and Wataniya in 2002.