BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) – The Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel signed an agreement on Wednesday that would allow Palestinian mobile service providers to offer 3G services to their Palestinian customers.
Hebrew language news outlets reported that the agreement was signed by the undersecretary of the Palestinian Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology Suleiman al-Zuheiri and a representative of the Israeli Ministry of Communication.
A spokesperson for COGAT, the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, confirmed the news in a statement.
The statement said that the agreement was deemed an important step for Palestinians in the field of telecommunications, adding that it was expected to assist the Palestinian economy through a dramatic increase of revenues telecommunications companies are expected to receive owing to the agreement.
The statement also applauded COGAT’s own efforts to forge the agreement despite obstacles, while pointing out that some three million Palestinians already used mobile services from Palestinian companies, in addition to 300,000 who use Israeli mobile providers.
Israeli authorities had previously barred Palestinian phone companies from offering 3G for alleged Israeli security concerns, leading many Palestinians to switch to Israeli phone providers.
In a 2016 report, the World Bank reported that the Palestinian mobile sector lost more than $1 billion in revenue between 2013 and 2015.
The World Bank listed several constraints that contributed to heavy losses sustained by mobile telecoms companies in the Palestinian territory, including the presence of unauthorized Israeli operators in the Palestinian market and Israeli restrictions placed on the import of equipment for telecom and ICT companies into the territory.
In November 2015, Israel and the PA signed an agreement to enable long-awaited 3G mobile access in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Israel had so far refused to provide mobile phone operators with additional 2G frequencies, let alone 3G or 4G technology, which was offered to six Israeli companies in January 2015.
Despite the agreement, “Palestinian operators remain at a competitive disadvantage because Israeli operators have 3G and 4G capabilities and are able to attract higher value customers,” the World Bank said.
Over 20 percent of the market volume in the occupied West Bank is captured by unauthorized Israeli operators, according to the report, largely due to the fact that Palestinian companies do not have access to the more than 60 percent under Israeli military control known as Area C.
Palestinian mobile operators are also required to go through an Israeli-registered company to access international links.
The lack of access to 3G mobile technology in the occupied Palestinian territory has long provided an added obstacle to economic and technological growth. A report released in 2015 by the Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka said that operators in Palestine lost an estimated $80 to $100 million annually as a result of the lack of 3G.