By “recognizing Palestine,” Google is hampering the success and even the continuation of the peace process, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin (Likud-Beiteinu) said in a Knesset session Wednesday. “Google is sadly mistaken if it thinks this will enhance the peace process,” Elkin said. “As long as the Palestinians think they can achieve their goals unilaterally, without negotiations, they will have no motivation to enter into talks.”
Last weekend, Google announced that it was the name "Palestine" on its search engine instead of "Palestinian Territories" in recognition of the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral bid at the United Nations. "We're changing the name 'Palestinian Territories' to 'Palestine' across our products. We consult a number of sources and authorities when naming countries. In this case, we are following the lead of the UN... and other international organizations," Google spokesman Nathan Tyler said in a statement quoted by AFP.
In a sharply worded letter to Google CEO Larry Page Sunday, Elkin said that that Google’s move does not bring Israel and the PA closer to the negotiating table but in fact achieves the opposite, adding that such decisions further solidify the PA’s position, that by taking unilateral steps they will be recognized as a state without having to negotiate with Israel. “Google's decision is puzzling,” wrote Elkin, “especially given the fact that this is intervention by an international company in local politics, which does not serve the interests of either party in the long-term.”
Speaking in the Knesset Wednesday, said that Israel was prepared to return to negotiations with the PA “at any time. But the whole world knows that it is PA chief Mahmoud Abbas who is holding up the talks. The decision by Google will further delay those talks. I call on all friends of Zionism to join in with us on complaining about this.”
The discussion in the Knesset took place after an urgent call by MKs Nachman Shai (Labor) and Ronen Feldman (Yesh Atid). Shai said that the Knesset needed to examine whether Google's move further deteriorated Israel's international position, with no government action to counter it. Google, in essence, had crowned “Palestine” a state, Shai said.
Shai added that Israel has since suffered yet another diplomatic setback – the announcement by British scientist Stephen Hawking that he was joining the academic boycott of Israel, and had cancelled plans to speak at the President's Conference in June.
In response, Elkin told Shai that it would be more effective to direct his criticism to more appropriate targets. “Israel's hasbara budget is a total of NIS 9.5 million, compared to NIS 200 million for the Palestinians. How are we expected to deal with that? It's like a small vehicle fighting a platoon of tanks.”
Elad Benari contributed to this story.