Plenipotentiary Conference 1998 -- Minneapolis USA

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Briefing Notes 18 of 4 November
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Status of Palestine in the ITU fires up at Plenipotentiary Conference

The Conference decided tonight to give Palestine an enhanced status in the ITU through the application of the International Telecommunication Regulations and Radio Regulations to the Palestinian Authority in the same manner as they are applied to administrations as defined in the Constitution. In particular, the Palestinian Authority will be able to obtain an international access code and call signs and will be able to submit its frequency notification assignments. Palestine will also have additional rights to those granted to observers.

Framing the issues
The move followed a proposal by a group of 23 countries tabled as a compromise to an earlier proposal to admit Palestine as a full Member of the ITU put forward to the Conference on 26 October by 18 countries.

The 18 sponsors of the proposal considered that the fulfillment of the basic purposes of the ITU as embodied in the Constitution and of the strengthening of peace and security were closely related to the universality of the Union. They recalled that Palestine had been part of the Union for many decades through countries having administrative authority over its territory and that many countries considered the Palestinian Authority as the de facto Government of the Palestinian State.

In response, Israel recalled that the Wye River Memorandum, signed by Israel and the Palestinians on 23 October, deepened the commitment of the two parties to the peace process and opened new prospects for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. They felt that the proposal to admit Palestine as a Member State was in violation of the ITU Constitution which permits only sovereign states to apply for membership. They argued that the current status of the Palestinian Authority, as mutually agreed by Israel and the Palestinians in the Interim agreement of 1995, ruled out any form of "State" status pending permanent status negotiations and hence precluded the admission process. For these reasons, Israel opposed any change in the status of Palestine.

In addition to membership, three requests were made in a separate proposal, reiterating those made in March 1998 at the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference. These were that
1) an international country code be allocated to the Palestinian network,
2) the Palestinian Authority be recognized to manage and control the radio-frequency spectrum and
3) radio call signs be given to Palestinian Authority.

These requests were following up on Resolution 4 of the ITU Regional Telecommunication Development Conference held in Beirut in 1996 which requested ITU to consider the above three requests and give consideration to the issue of membership.

On the international code, Israel considered that under the Interim Agreement, the operation of a Palestinian international gateway and international code were a matter to be agreed by the two parties and that until then, international communications were to be undertaken through Israeli operators. Putting this issue before the Conference was considered as politically motivated, lacking genuine technical or otherwise objective justification. On the other hand, the Palestinians said that Israel collected more than 50% of the revenue from their outgoing international calls and deprived them totally of the revenue from their incoming international calls. Moreover, although the mobile telephone and wireless telephone services had been used for a number of years in Palestinian territories, the Palestinian authorities gained no revenue as a result. He also said that while Israel has 2.7 million telephone lines, Palestinian territories are have only 100 000 lines for 3 million inhabitants as a result of its practices.

On frequency assignment, Israel said that the interim agreement provided that the exercise of authority in this area was vested with the Government of Israel and that any outside intervention would be self-defeating.

On call-signs, Israel stated that they were not specifically covered by the Interim agreement nor formally raised by the two parties to the Agreement. Israel opposed the treatment of this issue by the ITU as the ITU was not authorized to assign radio call sign to the areas in question until such time as the matter was resolved bilaterally between Israel and the Palestinians.

Information consultations to seek acceptable compromise
Following the submission of all the documents, the Chairman of the Conference decided to set up an informal group comprising the parties concerned to deal with these issues. These informal consultations were conducted, under the Chairman of the Conference, between all key players directly and indirectly involved in an attempt to resolve the situation. These consultations however did not bring an acceptable compromise and a new three-point proposal was tabled by 23 countries on 3 November and included on the agenda of the Plenary of today.

According to the three-point proposal:
1. the provisions of the Administrative Regulations, and related resolutions and recommendations, would be applied to the Palestinian Authority in the same manner as they are applied to administrations as defined in the Constitution, and the General Secretariat and the three Bureaux shall act accordingly, in particular in relation to the international access code, call signs and processing of frequency notification assignments;

2. Palestine would be able to participate in all ITU conferences, assemblies and meetings as an observer, with the rights that are attributed to an observer as defined in the Convention and in treaty making conferences with the following additional rights:

  • the right to raise points of order related to the proceedings on Palestinian and Middle East issues, provided that the right to raise such a point of order shall not include the right to challenge the decision of the presiding officer;
  • the right to co-sponsor draft resolutions and decisions on Palestinian and Middle East issues, such draft resolutions and decisions shall only be put to vote upon request from a Member State;

3. Palestinian delegations would be seated immediately after Member States.

In response to this proposal, Israel stated that it opposed the positions raised either by formally according to the Palestinian Authority the attributes of an administration or by informally applying these attributes to it because in both cases they were an alteration in or enhancement of the status of the Palestinian side. It considered that in both cases, any such change was in violation of the ITU Constitution which was binding on all Member States, and of the Interim agreement of 1995 and the Wye River Memorandum which were binding on both Parties and had to be respected by the international community as they created the law governing the relations between both parties. It also explained its opposition in relation to the legal instruments of the ITU.

Issue goes to vote
On a proposal to close the debate and the several points of order that followed, a secret ballot first took place on whether or not to close the debate. The number of decisive ballots (total number minus abstentions) was 102 bringing the required majority at 52. Eighty-five countries voted in favour and 17 against. In accordance with the provision of the Convention on which the move to close the debate was based, the successful outcome of the motion was to give way to an immediate vote on the three-point proposal. But when the results were announced, Israel supported by the US, questioned the competence of the Conference to proceed on the matter. Saudi Arabia however said that the Conference had already said it had the competence to deal with the subject when it adopted the agenda in the morning and included the document containing the proposal on the agenda.

A hail of points of order on procedural matters followed, leading the Chairman of the Conference to make a ruling. He said there was a clear sense in the room that, with the vote on the closing of debate, the vote on the three-point proposal was to proceed, consistent with the legal advice provided by the Secretary-General at the request of the Conference. He also expressed regret that the politics surrounding the issues seemed to be much bigger than the issues themselves.

He said he would have wished not to come to that end but, from the consultations he had held ever since he had set up the information consultation process, and despite the many efforts deployed by those directly and indirectly involved in trying to resolve the issue, he had the sense that the matter had to be settled by secret ballot. He concluded that the business of this Conference needed to go forward and therefore called for the vote.

120 countries voted of which 27 abstained. The number of ballots on which to compute the majority was 93, thus bringing the required majority to 47. Fifty-five countries voted in favour of the three-point proposal and 38 voted against.

Earlier in the day, the Conference elected the members of the Radio Regulations Board.

The results are as follows:

Region A - Americas (2 seats)

Maximum possible votes per candidate in this ballot:130

Carlos Alejandro MERCHÁN ESCALANTE (Mexico): 124 Votes
James R. CARROLL (Etats-Unis): 116 Votes

Region B - Western Europe (2 seats)

Maximum possible votes per candidate in this ballot:130

Pierre ABOUDARHAM (France): 85 Votes
Gabor KOVACS (Hungary): 84 Votes

Unsuccessful candidate
Henry A. KIEFFER (Switzerland): 83 Votes

Region C - Eastern Europe (2 seats)

Maximum possible votes per candidate in this ballot:129

Valery V. TIMOFEEV (Russia): 124 Votes
Ryszard G. STRUZAK (Poland): 119 Votes

Region D - Africa (3 seats)

Maximum possible votes per candidate in this ballot:129

Jean-Baptiste YAO KOUAKOU (Côte d'Ivoire): 104 Votes
John Ray Kwabena TANDOH (Ghana): 100 Votes
Ahmed TOUMI (Maroc): 80 Votes

Unsuccessful candidate
Dubby Douglas MUTESHA (Zambie): 71 Votes

Region E - Asia and Australasia (3 seats)

Maximum possible votes per candidate in this ballot: 132

Ravindra N. AGARWAL (Inde): 101 Votes
Mian Muhammad JAVED (Pakistan): 92 Votes
George Hugh RAILTON (Nouvelle-Zélande): 78 Votes

Unsuccessful candidates
Emamgholi BEHDAD (Iran, République islamique d'): 62 Votes
Toufic CHEBARO (Liban): 48 Votes

The members of the new RRB will take office on 1 February 1999n

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