Road to Palestinian vote full of obstacles


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has announced that the first presidential and parliamentary elections since 2006 will be held later this year. But the road to the vote — key to advancing Palestinian statehood and mending a rift between Abbas’ Fatah party and the Islamic militant group Hamas — is littered with obstacles.

Parliamentary elections are to be held on May 22, followed by a presidential vote on July 31. The rival factions will meet in Egypt later this month, hoping to work out logistics and settle their differences before election campaigns kick off.

With the aging Abbas at the helm in the West Bank, and Hamas’ rule entrenched in the Gaza Strip, there are many outstanding questions. Here’s a look at the complications surrounding a Palestinian election:

WHY NOW?

The Palestinians endured four tough years under President Donald Trump, who largely sided with Israel, prompting the Palestinians to cut off ties with the administration. Trump also brokered deals to establish ties between Israel and four Arab countries, shattering a longstanding wall of Arab opposition to normalization with Israel until it made major concessions to the Palestinians. The Trump administration cut funding to the Palestinians, further weakening their position.

While President-elect Joe Biden is likely to take a more balanced approach, he is expected to direct his attention first to more urgent foreign policy issues, such as the Iran nuclear deal. Abbas apparently hopes to start the relationship with the Biden administration on good terms by meeting the West’s long-standing demand that he hold overdue elections. Abbas may also have felt pressure from the European Union, one of the most important backers of his self-rule government, the Palestinian Authority. Similar pressure appears to have been exerted by Turkey and Qatar on Hamas.

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CHALLENGES AHEAD

Hamas and Fatah have spent years trying to reconcile after a split more than a decade ago. Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by Israel and Western countries, won the last parliamentary elections in 2006, but the international community largely refused to deal with any government that included Hamas figures.

After fierce street battles, Hamas routed Fatah forces and seized power in Gaza in 2007. It retained control of the territory despite an Israeli-Egyptian blockade. Numerous attempts to bring the factions together have failed, with terms for holding elections a major sticking point. Both sides have been unwilling to cede power and compromise — and it’s not clear whether attitudes have changed. In Gaza, Hamas has created its own government bureaucracy, along with an armed wing and a stockpile of rockets aimed at Israel. Abbas, who oversees autonomous zones in the West Bank, opposes violence as a means of ending more than half a century of Israeli occupation.

An additional roadblock is the uncertainty about holding the vote in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, sought by Palestinians as a future capital. Israel captured east Jerusalem, home to about 300,000 Palestinians, in the 1967 Mideast war, along with Gaza and the West Bank. Israel considers all of Jerusalem as its capital. While Israel permitted voting there under a less hard-line government in 2006, it could now view a vote as undermining its control and block it. Palestinian Central Election Commission chief Hanna Nasser said Saturday that officials have asked Israel about allowing voting in east Jerusalem. Abbas has said it is essential for such voting to take place.

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QUESTIONS REMAIN

Abbas, 85, has led the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization since the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004. While he has repeatedly said he would not seek another term as president, he has not groomed a successor. It’s possible that he will run again. Several senior Fatah members in their 60s and 70s consider themselves as potential candidates, but no clear favorite has emerged. Marwan Barghouti, a leader of the second Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, has done well in opinion polls, but is serving multiple life terms in an Israeli prison, complicating any candidacy.

A challenger from Hamas is also up in the air. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who led the group’s electoral list in the 2006 vote, left Gaza in 2019 for what was billed a regional tour, never to return.

Haniyeh, who now leads the movement’s decision-making body, was for years the group’s self-styled prime minister, running Gaza during the blockade and three wars with Israel. As a candidate and later head of the territory’s government, Haniyeh portrayed himself as an average person still living in the crowded al-Shati refugee camp on the edge of Gaza City, but that image did not last long. People in Gaza, many poor and jobless because of the blockade that was imposed in response to Hamas’ policies, whispered about Haniyeh’s rumored wealth. Since he left Gaza, images of his often luxurious stays in hotel suites in Qatar have leaked online, a jarring contrast to the grim reality of Gaza’s 2 million people.

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So-so networks – Britain’s 5G rollout faces myriad obstacles | Britain


BRITONS HAVE long complained about their mobile networks. A report from the National Infrastructure Commission in 2016 compared Britain’s 4G coverage, unfavourably, to Albania’s. At that time, a much-hyped new technology was on the cards: 5G, or the fifth generation of networks, would offer superfast speeds and lots more capacity. The network went live last year, making Britain one of the first countries to offer it to consumers.

A new report from Opensignal, a network-analytics firm, compares the experience of using 5G in a dozen countries where it is available. Britons have little reason to cheer. British 5G users spend less than 5% of their time on the new network, compared with nearly 20% for Americans; 5G download speeds are in the bottom third; overall average download speeds are the lowest in the set (see chart).

One culprit is geography. The countries on Opensignal’s list that perform best are either small, such as Taiwan, or very big but with most people concentrated in a few urban areas, such as Saudi Arabia and Australia. Britain, like Germany, has some dense areas but also many sparsely populated rural areas where building lots of cell-towers is expensive, and returns slim. The lay of the land matters too. Hills and trees interfere with mobile signals. A second reason is planning. Other European countries have more liberal planning laws, says Karen Egan, a telecoms analyst with Enders Analysis, a research firm. Councils present one obstacle. The farmers on whose land towers need to go present another.

The way in which spectrum is allocated also affects the quality of the service. Just as more water flows through a broader pipe, the more spectrum an operator has, the better the service it can provide. Many countries have just three networks. Britain has four. That means more competition and lower prices, but also less spectrum for each. Moreover, only half of the 5G spectrum has so far been auctioned. When the next chunk is bought up, networks may find themselves with fragmented bits of spectrum. Ms Egan describes the operators’ spectrum as “barcode-like: rather slim slivers of it, rather than large bands”.

That might be fixable. Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, is open to facilitating swaps between networks, says Greig Paul, a networks expert at the University of Strathclyde. But new problems have arisen, such as the government’s decision to ban equipment manufactured by Huawei, a Chinese company, from 5G networks. That will slow its roll-out and increase its cost. Conspiracy theories linking 5G to covid-19 and other ailments do not help either.

This matters—not just for consumers but also for industrial and agricultural uses. The real promise of 5G is in vastly increased capacity. The new network can handle up to 1m connections per square kilometre, compared with some 2,000 for 4G. That is why much of the hype surrounding 5G has been about filling factories full of sensors or connecting cows to the internet. But uncertain rules slow progress and raise costs. As Mr Paul puts it, “you cannot possibly charge £10 per cow” per month. Operators will have to find a way to spend on infrastructure, control prices and greatly increase the number of connections all at the same time if they are to milk 5G.

This article appeared in the Britain section of the print edition under the headline “Moobile networks”



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Coronavirus obstacles clearing for NRL to resume season on May 28 as Queensland agrees to return


Queensland has become the first state to provide approval for NRL players to train ahead the planned season return on May 28.

It follows Prime Minister Scott Morrison declaring he anticipates approval to be granted by the Australian Border Force for the New Zealand Warriors to be allowed entry to Australia.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she was as “keen as anyone else to see the NRL return, and I meant it”.

“The only condition was that it did not put our excellent work containing the spread of COVID-19 at risk and the Chief Health Officer advises that the NRL plan is workable,” she said.

Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys expressed his appreciation to the Queensland Government following its decision.

He said he had provided Ms Palaszczuk assurances the players would respect the “game’s stringent biosecurity protocols”.

“We are implementing the toughest of health and safety protocols for our players and staff to protect their health, and that of the community,” V’landys said in a statement.

“I have stressed the importance of this with our players and staff and they understand that for the future of our game, they will be expected to adhere to higher standards than the general public.

“We will not let the Premier, or Queensland, down.”

The Prime Minister said the decision to allow the New Zealand Warriors into Australia was up to the states and Australian Border Force (ABF), not National Cabinet.

Speaking after a meeting of the state and territory leaders on Friday, Mr Morrison said Cabinet did not give any authority to allow the club to enter Australia for the season.

“The National Cabinet has not provided that endorsement and nor is it for the National Cabinet to do that,” he said.

“The individual jurisdictions will ultimately provide any of the clearances that are necessary on a health basis to deal with any of the major codes.”

Mr Morrison subsequently told 2GB radio he hoped that ABF processing of the exemption would not take “too much longer.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said on Friday evening that the application was “still under consideration”.

The NRL plans to restart its competition on May 28, but the Warriors have said they would need to be in Australia by Sunday to be able to take part in the competition.

Mr Morrison said while he looked forward to NRL’s return, it would be “some time” before matches would be played in front of crowds.

Negotiations over players’ pay and lockdown restrictions escalate

The Warriors’ entry, if it occurs, will be a major milestone in the path to resumption of the NRL.

But disputes around player pay and training timetables need to be resolved before players return to the field.

The ABC understands players are yet to accept a pay deal that would mean they receive 80 per cent of their previous income.

There are also concerns over the health and welfare of the players as they face strict lockdown in order to reduce the chance of anyone catching the virus.

It means a planned return to training on Tuesday may be delayed, but parties were still working to resume on May 28.

Border Force to let Warriors know about travel exemption

Mr Morrison noted that the authority to provide the Warriors with an exemption to current travel restrictions that only allow Australian citizens and permanent residents to enter the country lay with ABF.

The Prime Minister said when the ABF had made a decision it would let the team and the NRL know.

Mr Morrison said the national panel of medical experts would be advising all states and territories considering proposals from the NRL and other sporting codes.

“The panel will provide advice … about the decisions they would need to make regarding the proposals being put forward by those codes,” he said.

“Ultimately those decisions will be made in those states but at least they’ll be doing so on the basis of a set of consistent medical advice.”

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