We were dismayed by the announcement last week from Google that it was changing the name “Palestinian Territories” to “Palestine” across its products. In explaining the action, a Google spokesman said that “We consult 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 (International Organization for Standardization) and other international organizations.”

ICANN is a non-governmental international organization that coordinates the Internet’s system of unique identifiers and addresses. The ISO, also an international non-governmental body, promotes standardization in various fields around the world. Following the UN General Assembly’s granting non-member observer state status to “Palestine,” both ICANN and the ISO followed suit and began referring to “Palestinian territories” as “Palestine.”

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It is not yet clear how far Google intends to go with “Palestine.” At this point Google has changed the logo of its localized search pages serving the Palestinians to read “Palestine” rather than “Palestinian territories.” Even this seemingly innocuous move is significant since localized search pages serving the United Kingdom, France and other countries list the name of the particular country served on the local logo.

Some Israeli officials downplayed the matter, noting that Google is not a government or an international organization like the UN. But such calm is misplaced. The Palestinians reacted with glee to this recognition, rightly seeing it as a form of “virtual recognition.” Google has a global reach and its move to rebrand “Palestine” will be understood by untold millions as somehow defining.

Google certainly has come a long way from its original mission statement, in which it proposed “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

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