x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 September 2017

Google's Palestine decision praised

Internet giant stands by decision to use 'Palestine" on its home page for the Palestinian territories, amid criticism from Israel. Hugh Naylor reports from Ramallah

RAMALLAH // The Palestinian Authority (PA) yesterday praised Google's decision to use "Palestine" on its home page for the Palestinian territories, and accused Israel of "paranoia" for rejecting the move.

"What Google did was the right thing, the logical thing, and it respects the facts on the ground and the will of hundreds of millions of its users worldwide," said Nour Odeh, a spokeswoman for the PA.

"One of the most telling things of all of this is the paranoia that the Israeli establishment has from the historical, political and legal fact of Palestine," Ms Odeh said, referring to the UN's decision last year to recognise the Palestinians as a non-member observer state.

Israel opposed the UN move, which gives Palestinians access to the International Criminal Court to possibly initiate proceedings against Israeli officials over alleged war crimes.

Citing the UN decision, Google on Wednesday replaced "Palestinian Territories" with "Palestine" on its Palestinian page, google.ps.

Israeli officials have criticised the decision, calling it an obstacle to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, has been trying to persuade both sides to restart peace talks, which broke down in 2010 because of Israel's refusal to stop constructing Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

"I think that the Google decision from the last few days is very, very problematic," Israel's deputy foreign minister, Zeev Elkin, told Israel's army radio yesterday.

"When a company such as 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."

Yigal Palmor, Israel's foreign ministry spokesman, said on Friday that the decision "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".

Also on Friday, Nathan Tyler, a Google spokesman, defended the company's decision. "We consult a number of sources and authorities when naming countries," he said. "In this case, we are following the lead of the UN ... and other international organisations."

In November, the UN General Assembly overwhelming supported the Palestinian bid for recognition as a non-member observer state, with 138 countries voting for, nine against, and 41 abstentions. The United States joined Israel in opposing the move, warning that it could undermine the peace process.

Last month, Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president, temporarily suspended efforts to join other international agencies as a gesture to Mr Kerry's attempt to restart negotiations with Israel.

The PA, which has limited control over Palestinian areas of the West Bank, has started using "State of Palestine" on some official documents and buildings, including diplomatic missions.

In another boost for Palestinian statehood, Denmark and Finland said on Saturday that the Palestinian representative offices in Copenhagen and Helsinki would be upgraded to embassy status this year.

A joint statement by the countries' foreign ministers said that although the move would "not entail a formal bilateral recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state", it was "important to keep focused on the aim of Palestine becoming a fully recognised state and, as such, claim its rightful place as part of the international community of states".

Palestinians are seeking a state that encompasses the Israeli-occupied territories of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the desired capital of East Jerusalem.

Officials from Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that controls Gaza, could not be reached for comment.

hnaylor@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Reuters

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