Despite a stalled peace process and a recent Arab Peace Initative that has no hope of achieving its stated goal (as Jonathan and Seth discussed yesterday), there have been interesting developments in the region this week, albeit in cyberspace. The Google main search page for those searching within the West Bank and Gaza has been changed from “Palestinian Territories” to simply “Palestine.” Foreign Policy’s blog reported on the change and indicated it may have been inspired by the somewhat recent vote to upgrade the Palestinians’ status at the UN.
This isn’t the first time an online giant has become involved in the conflict. Last year it was noted by many Israelis that the location of their postings from within Israel were tagged “Palestine” and “East Jerusalem” on Facebook. One blogger for the Times of Israel noted:
Apparently Facebook no longer lists my town of ‘Neve Daniel’ as ‘Israel’, but rather as a city in ‘Palestine.’ Truthfully, this type of geographical blundering isn’t a particularly new development. In fact, I remember a time when I could ‘choose’ to tag my location either ‘Neve Daniel, Israel’ or ‘Neve Daniel, West Bank.’ Since 2010, Bing Maps have powered Facebook’s Places and locations. Frankly I don’t hold much stock in Bing Maps. A simple search in Bing could not even find Neve Daniel at all, in any country. I don’t know the back end of these programs, or how they work or fail to work. I can say that I successfully tagged the location on a photo, as I’ve done many times, as ‘Neve Daniel, Israel.’ Though what I saw, depending on where I was viewing it, was either only ‘Neve Daniel’ or ‘Neve Daniel, West Bank.’ What other people saw, and what they rushed to tell me and send me screen shots of, was ‘Neve Daniel, Palestine.’
Apple, a company which has enough cash on hand to “acquire Facebook, Hewlett-Packard and Yahoo… [or] buy every office building and retail space in New York, according to city estimates,” has also weighed in, as the Jewish Week reported last fall:
Apple’s new operating system, iOS6, does not show Jerusalem as the capital of Israel although every other country on the map has its capital listed. Further, when iPhone users go to the built-in World Clock app that is included in iOS6 they will see that Jerusalem is the only city to be listed without an affiliated country. Some users of the new operating system also noticed an inability to locate Jerusalem hotels using Apple Maps, while finding hotels in other Israeli cities like Tel Aviv was possible.
Despite an absolute lack of resolution of the conflict, Google, Apple and Facebook seem content to move forward with company-wide recognition of a state that does not yet exist. While this seems like a minor issue in the scope of the entire conflict, it is a significant one. The Internet is increasingly becoming a major battleground in 21st-century warfare. As tension begins to rise in the region, Israel and its allies should be concerned that the those behind the controls at the Internet’s three biggest companies, which have gained an incredible amount of strategic value in recent conflicts, have already picked the winners and losers.