Google's Put Palestine on the Map. So Has Israel's Acting Foreign Minister

By vocally urging Google to stop referring to the Palestinian territories as Palestine, Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin has unwittingly helped further the two-state solution.

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

I'd like to thank Google for putting Palestine on the map. It's about time that someone did. Come to think of it, thanks to Google, someone else has as well: Israel's curious, corrosive excuse for an acting foreign minister.

When the history of the making of the state of Palestine is someday written, there should be a special mention of the contribution of one Israeli in particular: Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin.

It was Elkin that granted international prominence this week to a decision by Google to begin to use the name Palestine in place of the Palestinian Territories, and therefore – in Elkin's words in a letter of protest to Google CEO Larry Page – "in essence recognizing the existence of a Palestinian state."

“I would be grateful were you to reconsider this decision," Elkin concluded, "since it entrenches the Palestinians in their view that they can further their political aims through one-sided actions rather than through negotiating and mutual agreement."

Elkin's words echoed around the world, not least when the Reuters news agency
quoted Elkin on Army Radio, railing against the move as undermining Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy and harming hopes for an eventual peace.

Pause for irony.

It's fair to suggest that no one in the entire state of Israel knows better than Zeev Elkin how unilateral actions can hinder and undermine diplomacy, preclude opportunities, and do injury to peace hopes between Israel and the Palestinians.

Even in a country of iconoclasts, Zeev Elkin stands out as Mr. Unilateral.

This is a man who – in defiance of his own party's and his own government's stated policy – actively, publicly, unapologetically urges Israel to unilaterally annex the entire West Bank.

"This is our land, and it’s our right to apply sovereignty over it," Elkin told a July conference advocating the end of a two-state solution, held in Hebron's flashpoint Cave of the Patriarchs.

"Regardless of the world’s opposition, it’s time to do in Judea and Samaria what we did in [East] Jerusalem and the Golan."

This is a man who, defying his prime minister and his own position as then-chair of the ruling coalition, voted in June in favor of a Knesset bill to retroactively legalize the very breeder reactors of unilateralism in the holy land: settlement outposts that even Israel considers illegal.

At the same time, one could argue that Elkin has been aiding the cause of Palestine for much of his career, making Israel look bad and worse in the eyes of the world.

For the last few years, Elkin has distinguished himself in authoring and advocating legislation targeting some of the more democratic of Israeli freedoms, with an eye toward dismantling them.

One of them, a bill meant to broadly redefine anti-Israel boycotts and intimidate and punish alleged proponents, was so draconian, so sweepingly, sneakily neo-Stalinist and vigilante-oriented, that even Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren gave up trying to defend it to U.S. Jewish critics on the left and right, and Netanyahu conspicuously absented himself from the Knesset vote.

The boycott bill may well have given critics of Israel much more accurate and effective ammunition than any boycott ever has.

Now, at long last, Elkin is doing something useful. Since the recent resignation of former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad, no one has done more for the cause of Palestinian state-building than Zeev Elkin.

Elkin knows as well as anyone that Israel faces a crucial choice, one which, for the last several years, it has chosen to duck: One state or two. One anti-democratic, demographically and diplomatically doomed Greater Israel, or an Israel living alongside an independent Palestine.

To that end, the world needs to get used to Palestine being on the map. And now, without firing a shot, without anyone getting hurt, Israel's acting foreign minister has contributed much to that effort.

Earlier this year, Elkin himself inadvertently pointed to why name-recognition for Palestine could be of such importance. In a speech arguing for unilateral takeover of the West Bank, Elkin declared:

“It will take time to change people’s awareness but in the end this will penetrate. And then, what seems today like a fairy tale will eventually become political reality, and the reality on the ground.”

In passionately arguing for one state, Israel's acting foreign minister has helped lay the groundwork for two.

At long last, after years and years in public life, Zeev Elkin has finally done something good for his country.

Palestinian homepage of Google's search engine reading 'Palestine' at internet cafe in East Jerusalem.Credit: AFP
Zeev Elkin at the Knesset.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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