Friday, May 1, 2009

Interview with Israeli Telecom Reporter Amitai Ziv

I recently spoke by phone with Amitai Ziv, who is the telecom correspondent for The Marker, an Israeli newspaper. We discussed a May 2008 article he wrote about Paltel and Abdel Malik Jaber, Paltel’s former CEO. Recently, Jaber agreed to step down as part of Paltel’s acquisition by Zain, and his successor has yet to be named. Ziv knew little about the acquisition, but had much to say about his one-hour interview with Jaber at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem last May.

Ziv held Jaber in high regard. “[Jaber] is a businessman,” Ziv said. “He knows what he wants. He wasn’t afraid to speak about the occupation. He doesn’t apologize for being Palestinian or bypass all those issues. He just speaks about them. It’s impressive.”

In Ziv’s article for The Marker, he quoted Jaber as saying: “It’s no wonder that the first Palestinian Venture Capital fund is headed by an Israeli.” I asked Ziv what Jaber may have meant by this. “Israel is a very innovative country,” Ziv said. “There are so many innovations. We are known for our start-ups. I’ve met many here in this year that I’ve been working [at The Marker] and I still have 400 more to meet…Israel is really known for that. I think that’s what he meant. …I think he was [complimenting Israelis for being entrepreneurial].”

I find it interesting and impressive that Jaber is able to praise the drive for innovation in Israeli society, despite the struggles he has experienced as a result of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories.

Ziv also respected Jaber’s honesty and objectivity and came away from the interview with sympathy for Jaber’s difficult role. “[The Palestinian Territories] are such a small piece of land, so it’s so weird that [Jaber] can’t have his own antennas,” Ziv said. “It’s also the only company in the world, I think, that has its switch not inside the territories—[the switch] is in London. Israel won’t let [Jaber] bring it to here. Every phone conversation inside the Palestinian Territories is going through London.”

Ziv commented that Wataniya will likely face an uphill struggle. “I think it’s going to be a real nightmare for any new company in the Palestinian Territories to build new sites, to get permits from the Israeli occupation,” he said. “Maybe that’s why [Wataniya has had so many delays].”

Finally, Ziv said that the four Israeli telecom companies operating in the Palestinian Territories may not be eager to speak about the issue. “They prefer to do business, to be quiet, to not make a big declaration about are we right or wrong,” he said. “I think they would say that they are giving good services to 200,000 settlers over there in the West Bank…They will also say that, if a Palestinian chooses to buy a prepaid card to talk via Israeli companies, rather than via a Palestinian company, they have a right to do that."