Daily Israel Report

PA Ban on Israeli SIM Cards Lines Abbas Family Pockets

The PA's ban on Arabs using Israeli SIM cards is forcing people to purchase SIM cards from a company run and controlled by Chairman Abbas' sons.
By Avi Yellin
First Publish: 5/31/2010, 11:33 PM / Last Update: 6/1/2010, 9:35 PM

Flash 90
The boycott of Israeli products and jobs that the American-backed Palestinian Authority has forced upon Arabs living under its control is proving profitable for the PA Chairman's famiy.

The Fatah-led PA passed a law last month banning the sale of Israeli mobile phone cards within its territories and threatening to prosecute any Arab caught violating the ban. In short, the law prohibits Arab residents of Judea and Samaria from using Israeli SIM cards in their cellular phones and requires them to purchase cards supplied by PA companies.

PA Telecommunications Minister Mashhour Abu Dakka, responsible for the ban of Israeli SIM cards, accused Israeli cell phone companies of offering services to PA Arabs without having obtained a license from his government. He estimated PA losses resulting from reduced tax revenue at about $100 million per year, claiming that 12 percent of Arab mobile phone users in Judea and Samaria were using SIM cards that gave them access to Israeli networks – a service PA networks are still unable to provide to their customers.

While the ban on Israeli SIM cards, like the prohibition against working in Jewish communities and factories, is promoted as an anti-Israel measure, new evidence suggests another result. According to the Hebrew Makor Rishon's print edition, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's two sons Tarek and Yasser are owners and officers in the Wataniya cellular phone company supplying SIM cards within the PA. Tarek is a Vice President in Wataniya while Yasser sits on the panel of investors that decides to allocate money to the company.

This is not the first time Wataniya has been the focus of scandal. Last month, American aid in the form of loan guarantees meant for Arab farmers and small to mid-sized businesses within the PA were transferred to Wataniya at Chairman Abbas’s behest.

Although Abbas and his supporters argued at the time that help for Wataniya is good for jobs and free markets within the PA, the transfer of United States tax dollars to the company - a joint venture between a Kuwaiti and Qatari telecoms group and a holding company for public assets, the Palestine Investment Fund (PIF) - has dismayed many sponsors of small private enterprise. Another of the firm's advocates is Quartet Middle East Envoy Tony Blair, who has personal business interests in the area and who recently pressed Israel's government to grant Wataniya radio frequencies.