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Google ‘Palestine’ page draws Israeli ire

Internet giant now uses ‘Palestine’ instead of ‘Palestinian Territories’ on product pages such as flagship search engine and Google Maps

The Palestinian homepage of Google's search engine reads "Palestine" at an internet cafe in east jerusalem. (AFP Photo)
The Palestinian homepage of Google’s search engine reads “Palestine” at an internet cafe in east jerusalem.
(AFP Photo)

Log onto the Google.ps page from Ramallah, Nablus or Gaza and you will no longer be faced with the tagline “Palestinian Territories” under the Google logo on the screen.

Instead, it now simply reads “Palestine”.

The change, which was announced by Google on 1 May, has now been made across all of Google’s products, including Google Maps, where the area occupied by the Palestinian Territories is also now labelled as Palestine.

The move has angered Israeli officials, with Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin calling it “very, very problematic”, according to Reuters.

Speaking to Israel Army Radio, he said that such a position taken by “a company like Google actually pushes peace further away, pushes away negotiations, and creates among the Palestinian leadership the illusion that in this manner they can achieve results”.

He added: “Without direct negotiation with us, nothing will happen.”

Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Yigal Palmor told AFP that the change “raises questions about the reasons behind this surprising involvement of what is basically a private Internet company in international politics, and on the controversial side”.

Google is no stranger to political controversy. In response to much criticism, the company decided in 2010 to redirect its Google China service to Google Hong Kong, a move aimed at allowing users in China to access information and websites censored by the Chinese government, since Google Hong Kong does not lie under Chinese jurisdiction.

The company explained the rationale behind the decision to switch to using the word Palestine in a statement last week, saying it consults “a number of sources and authorities when naming countries”.

“In this case, we are following the lead of the UN, Icann (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), ISO (the International Organisation for Standardisation) and other international organisations,” said the statement.

In November 2012, the UN General Assembly recognised Palestine as a “non-member observer state” after a vote of 138 member states in favour, 9 against and 41 abstentions.

Israel and the United States, where Google is based, were among the nine who opposed the move.

The Palestinian government has welcomed the change, calling it a “a step in the right direction”, according to the BBC, and revealing that since the UN vote they have been contacting international companies such as Google to push for the use of the name.

Palestinian authorities have since begun to use the “State of Palestine” in diplomatic correspondence and have issued official stamps bearing the name.

The word “Palestine” is deemed controversial by Israel. Official policy is that the borders of any possible Palestinian state remain as yet undefined. In official usage, the West Bank, for example, is still referred to as “Judea and Samaria”.

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