Shortly before US President Barack Obama’s visit to Ramallah in 2013, three Palestinians were talking in a Ramallah cafe about how to convey the suffering of Palestinians to the US leader.
Mahir Alawneh, a graphic designer, came up with an idea.
“We did a little research and found out that Obama was reluctant in giving up his BlackBerry when he became president because of its many features including 3G services,” Alawneh told Al Jazeera.
When Obama arrived in Ramallah, he and his entourage were greeted by three large billboards with the following statement: “President Obama, don’t bring your smartphone to Ramallah. You won’t have mobile access to internet. We don’t have 3G in Palestine.”
Message to Obama
While BlackBerry phones are considered passe today, Israel has finally allowed Palestinians in the West Bank to have 3G. The well-publicised ceremony was meant to send a specific message to the US.
With Palestinian and Israeli flags displayed, Israel’s Army Coordinator Yoav Mordachai along with Hussein al-Sheikh, the Palestinian minister for civil affairs, signed an agreement on November 19 that allows Palestinian mobile phone companies to operate 3G services in the West Bank. But the 3G service is still not allowed in the Gaza Strip.
Former USAID Director Howard J Sumka noted on his twitter account that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair had promised to get 3G accessibility to Palestinians back in 2009. Robert Danin, a senior fellow in the Council on Foreign Relations, also added to the lively social media discussion on the topic.
“Spent 2 years shuttling nearly daily [between] Ramallah & Tel Aviv on this. Now, 7 years later, success. Painfully slow,” Danin wrote on his personal Twitter account.
Israeli change of mind
The Israeli agreement has produced a range of reactions. Mamoun Mattar, a Palestinian IT and broadcasting expert, told Al Jazeera that Israel’s change of mind is due to the fact that frequencies have been vacant now that Israel has moved to 4G. He questioned why Palestinian companies should invest in 3G at this time: “I am not sure it is that advantageous now to go to 3G while all surrounding countries are using 4G and are preparing for 5G.”
Ammar Aker, CEO of Jawwal, the leading Palestinian company, has welcomed the move although he has insisted that this will not deter Palestinians from demanding 4G services.
While Israel has finally conceded the use of 3G in the West Bank, it has refused to allow the same service to Gaza.
Mattar explains that Palestinians have been demanding 3G for years in order to spur the local IT industry. He says that research has shown that investment in IT has a direct effect on Palestinian economy.
“Research has proven that a mere 10 percent investment in IT would produce a 7 percent growth in the Palestinian economy,” he told Al Jazeera.
Mattar explains that Palestinians have been demanding 3G for years in order to spur the local IT industry.
Alawneh, who now runs an animation design company called codemation, is not sure about the timing and the exact circumstances that led to the Israeli decision.
“I don’t want to talk politics but there is nothing in our lives that are devoid of politics. It is a unilateral action that removes one more restriction and therefore signals that Israel is moving in the direction of … a one state solution.”
Alawneh said that such an eventuality would not be good for Palestinians.
“If they are thinking of a one state solution, that means annexation without equal rights. This is not good for us,” he said.
The idea of confidence-building measures appears to have replaced any attempts at ending the Israeli occupation. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama seem to be in agreement about the inability to work on the peace process in the last months of the Obama administration. The Israelis and the White House seem to agree that the next year or two will be spent yet again on managing the Palestinian conflict rather than solving it.
Daoud Kuttab, an award-winning Palestinian journalist, is a former Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.