The Israeli Foreign Minister has sent a strongly worded letter to Google CEO, Larry Page, warning him that their new Palestine search page could undermine Middle-East peace negotiations. “Such a decision is in my opinion not only mistaken but could also negatively impinge on the efforts of my government to bring about direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” wrote minister Ze’ev Elkin, about Google’s decision to change “Palestinian Territories” to “Palestine” on Google.ps (picture above).
Careful followers of foreign policy news might question how exactly a tiny word change on a website could upset arguably the most resource-intensive diplomatic effort in human history, but we think such skepticism underestimates Google’s vast geo-political power. Here’s a thought experiment of 5 different ways Google could have a meaningful impact:
1. Well, maybe Google could…no, that wouldn’t do anything
Ok, we can’t think of any.
Google is simply following the lead of the United Nations and other major Internet governance organizations. “We’re changing the name ‘Palestinian Territories’ to ‘Palestine’ across our products. We consulted a number of sources and authorities when naming countries.” Google spokesman Nathan Tyler told the BBC. “In this case, we are following the lead of the UN, Icann [the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers], ISO [International Organisation for Standardisation] and other international organisations.
While the highly controversial UN vote was an enormous symbolic victory for the Middle-Eastern region, the only way in which Google could make a meaningful impact on the global discussion is to be brazenly contrary to every other Internet body. And, it’s silly to think that “Well, Google doesn’t recognize you guys” would make much of a difference at the negotiation table.
The Guardian probably had the best cheeky headline, subtly mocking the row over Google’s decision (as only the British can), “Palestine now recognised by greater power than US or Israel – Google”
When Google does choose to throw its foreign policy weight around, it does so by taking on dictatorships, either by opening up shop in China, giving Google products to Iran, or mapping North Korea’s prisons. Elkin’s letter seems like a PR gimmick with Google as the political football.
A note to our readers: every time we write something about Israeli politics, people get (reasonably) heated. For the record, we’ve written a lot of positive things about Israeli civil society, especially their thriving startup scene.
So, don’t freak out. This was more about the laughably overblown reaction to a minor word change. For the Internet’s sake, don’t encourage Google’s ego.