Monday, October 5, 2009

Israel Threatens to Halt Wataniya's Launch Unless PA Drops Demands for War Crimes Inquiry

The Sept. 15 deadline passed without any headway, and Wataniya Palestine has still been allotted only 3.8 MHz of the 4.8 MHz of frequency spectrum it was promised. Nevertheless, the company’s CEO, Allan Richardson, is forging ahead with plans to launch mobile phone operations on Oct. 15, assuming that the Israeli government allots 4.8 MHz by this time. In a Sept. 30 email, Richardson wrote:
“Right now there is no major movement on the spectrum issue. There is a lot of activity of a political nature at a high level in the background. My focus right now is to get the company ready for launch by mid October and we are on target. We have 250 employees + vendors working incredibly hard to get this company ready for launch. When I have something more for you I will let you know.”
Richardson declined to comment on a controversial story recently published in Ha’aretz, which reports that the Palestinian Authority has called on the International Court to investigate "war crimes" allegedly committed by the IDF during last winter’s Gaza War. In response, Israel said that it would not allow Wataniya to operate unless the Palestinian Authority drops its demands for a war crimes inquiry.

While they blame each other for this debacle, my sources on both sides agree that the failure of the Wataniya project would be catastrophic for the West Bank economy. As a multi-national company with more than $300 million invested in the West Bank, Wataniya's failure could scare off future investors, not to mention cost Palestinians more than 2000 jobs. It could also be a cataclysmic financial blow to the Palestinian Authority, which Wataniya would invariably sue for at least $300 million in damages.

Most worrisome is the reality that Wataniya’s failure could derail the West Bank’s surprisingly positive economic growth as well as behind-the-scenes progress in peace negotiations. In the past two years, state-of-the-art shopping malls and movie theatres have been constructed and Israeli-imposed security restrictions have been lifted. Many western leaders, including Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, have publicized this prosperity as an example of “economic peace” and an indication of what Gaza citizens could enjoy, if only their leadership decided to abandon terrorism.

But all of this growth hinges on the confidence of the investment community. In a Sept. 4 email exchange, Palestinian-American entrepreneur and businessman Sam Bahour, who lives in the West Bank and wrote a recent editorial in the WSJ, said the following:
“[The Wataniya situation] is a clear example of… Israel (the occupier) continuing to micro manage the Palestinian economy, the core reason why the Palestinian economy is stunned…The investment community, in Palestine and abroad, is able, willing and ready to build a true Palestinian economy the second Israel ends its military occupation.”
I’m currently pitching the story of this ongoing controversy to major U.S. newspapers, and hope to publish the story after Wataniya’s planned Oct. 15 launch date. Stay tuned…

No comments: