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Google Stirs Political Uproar With 'Palestine' Tagline

Google Steps into Political Minefield with 'Palestine' Tagline
A Palestinian woman opens the Palestinian homepage of Google's search engine in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Internet giant Google has recognised the Palestinians' upgraded UN status, placing the name Palestine on its search engine instead of Palestinian Territories. Photographer: Abed Rahim Khatib/Demotix via Corbis

(Updates with additional comments from Zeev Elkin in 8th paragraph.)

Google sparked a diplomatic uproar over the weekend when the company changed taglines on its websites from "Palestinian territories" to "Palestine." The move thrust Google into the middle of the territorial dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

"The step puts Palestine on the virtual map and should encourage others to recognize the United Nations resolution," said Sabri Saidam, an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin condemned the change. He proposed that Google Chief Executive Officer Larry Page meet with Israeli representatives to further discuss the decision by the Mountain View, California-based company.

Elkin argued that the change could "negatively impinge on the efforts of my government to bring about direct negotiations," he wrote in a letter to Page. "Google has brought about so many positive changes in the world by promoting connections between people. This decision, however, is in contradiction to such aims."

Google changed the tagline on May 1 as the U.S. government has been renewing its efforts to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table after more than two years of stalemates. The United Nations General Assembly voted in November to recognize Palestine as an "observer state ," which was largely symbolic but drew criticism from the U.S. and Israel.

Nathan Tyler, a Google spokesman in California, cited the UN's stance as a reason for recognizing Palestine, as well as recent moves by the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, an Internet governance group, and the International Organization for Standardization, which develops technology and business standards.

"We're changing the name 'Palestinian territories' to 'Palestine' across our products," Tyler wrote in an e-mail. "In this case we are following the lead of the UN, ICANN, ISO and other international organizations."

Elkin spoke to the Israeli plenum today and urged all members of parliament to protest Google's decision.

''Google strengthens unilateral steps taken by the Palestinians,'' he said according to a text message from his spokewoman. ''Any kind of support for unilateral steps by the Palestinians distances us from peace and from direct talks.''

Despite the fallout, the friction with Israel doesn't appear to be headed toward the kind of confrontation that the global search engine company had in China a few years ago, when it shuttered its service there to avoid complying with the government's rules on Web censorship.

"Google is a private Internet company," said Yigal Palmor, the spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry. "They aren't an international body whose decisions are binding in any diplomatic or legal way. For all I care, they can do Google Never-Never Land, and that's cool."

This story was first published in Bloomberg's Global Tech Today newsletter. To get an early jump on the top tech news from around the world, sign up for the free weekday report.

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