The latest decision by Google to change the title of its Palestinian homepage from “Palestinian Territories” to “Palestine” – an apparently de facto recognition by the popular Internet search engine of an independent Palestinian state – has drawn sharp rebuke from Israel.
“I think that the Google decision from the last few days is very, very problematic,” declared Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin, an adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“When a company like Google comes along and supports this line, it actually pushes peace further away, pushes away negotiations, and creates among the Palestinian leadership the illusion that in this manner they can achieve the result,” he opined to Israel’s Army Radio. “Without direct negotiation with us, nothing will happen.”
Google’s controversial move comes in an environment of increasing worldwide pressure to acknowledge the Palestinian territories as a fully independent governmental entity. This past November, the United Nations General Assembly voted to raise the official status of its Palestinian mission to a non-member observer state, a decision that sparked fervent criticism from both Israel and the United States.
The term “Palestine” is considered controversial due to the fact that the final status of the Palestinian territories and their borders remain to be determined through direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Peace talks between the two entities have been mostly moribund for the past four-plus years, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s West Bank government insisting that Israel meet a number of preconditions prior to their continuation.
Another Israeli government representative sounded somewhat less outraged than Elkin, but was critical of the search engine’s action nonetheless. “Google is not a political or diplomatic entity, so they can call anything by any name; it has no diplomatic or political significance,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor commented to The Times of Israel. “That said, of course, there can be many questions raised by this change, regarding Google’s policy and the meaning of all that. Precisely because Google is not the UN or any international diplomatic institution, this begs the question of whether there is room for any political stance on controversial issues on behalf of what is basically a private Internet company.”
In contrast to the generally negative Israeli reaction, Palestinians expressed their satisfaction with the change in Google status. An adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said this was a “victory for Palestine and a step toward its liberation.” Sabri Saidam added that Google had “put Palestine on the Internet map, making it a geographical reality,” and he disclosed that Palestinians had invited Google’s cartographers to travel to the area and collect additional data for their online maps.
According to Saidam, the opposition by Israel to the new Google label is based in apprehension that “the recognition will destroy Israel’s concept of ‘Judea and Samaria’” - the Biblical names that the Jewish state uses for the West Bank.”
Commenting on the change, which appears on both the Arabic and English versions of the local Palestinian homepage, a spokesman for Google in Israel stated, “We are following the lead of the UN ... and other international organizations.”