It surely ranks as one of the most absurd and yet insightful Internet petition disputes. Supporters of the Palestinians have been raging at Google recently because they felt the Internet giant had slighted their cause. An urban myth of recent vintage claimed that Google had removed the legend “Palestine” from its maps. But the problem was that, although a glitch had taken the labels off what some call the territory of “Palestine,” the words that were temporarily erased were “West Bank” and “Gaza”–not the name of a nation that formally exists only at the United Nations and in the Olympics but not in the real world.
As the New York Times reported on Thursday, that isn’t satisfying the people that call themselves Palestinians since they think their territorial demands should be treated as legal facts. Nor has it influenced the anti-Zionist Jewish Voices for Peace whose staff joined the protest and created, as the Times noted, a fraudulent GIF that showed “Palestine” being taken off the map. The petition that still sits at change.org falsely alleges that Google removed “Palestine” from the map at the behest of the Israeli government and even goes so far as to additionally claim that the “two Jewish founders” of the company had acquiesced to this mythical request because of their Zionist leanings.
While the whole conspiracy theory underlying this controversy is fraudulent the question of what to call “Palestine” is not without some interest for both students of history and the Middle East peace process.
Maps that note the boundaries between nations are or at least ought to be a function of legally recognized borders. It’s worth recalling that such an independent Arab state in this area would be the first in history. The Romans coined the name “Palestine” after the Philistines (who were not Arabs) in their effort to strip the territory then known as Judea of its Jewish identity after they crushed rebellions and killed or evicted most of the population. The next political entity called by that name was the British Mandate for Palestine that ruled over what are now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza from 1922 to 1948. The League of Nations granted the British rule over the country as part of a charter in which they were tasked with facilitating the growth of a Jewish national home there.
In one of the ironies of history the only people who called themselves Palestinians during that time were the Jewish inhabitants. The Arabs called themselves Arabs, not Palestinians. This coincided with the birth of what we now term a Palestinian movement that gave birth to a sense of national identity that was inextricably linked to a war against Zionism and the Jews that still governs their political culture to this day.
The world only began to think of Israel’s Arab antagonists as Palestinians after the birth of the Jewish state. That was particularly true after 1967 when the territories of the West Bank (so-called to differentiate it from the rest of the Kingdom of Jordan — then called the East Bank) and Gaza fell into Israeli hands during the Six Day War after being ruled by Jordan and Egypt since 1948.
But if you look at any map of “Palestine” published by the current day Palestinians, what you see isn’t merely the West Bank and Gaza (with or without the part of Jerusalem that was illegally occupied by Jordan until 1967 or the settlement blocs that even the Obama administration believes would remain part of Israel in the event of a peace deal). Palestinian maps show all of Israel as the territory of Palestine.
Though the petition sent to Google raises the canard that Israel is “ethnically cleansing” these lands, the goal of Palestinian Arabs—whether the moderates of Fatah that run the West Bank or the Islamists of Hamas that rule Gaza as independent Palestinian state in all but name—is still to erase the Jewish state of Israel. That’s why they’ve rejected every peace offer including the United Nations’ 1947 partition plan that the Arabs rejected because it sought to create an Arab state next to a Jewish one. It’s also why Palestinian public opinion still considers terrorist violence against any Jew a laudable act.
An Arab population that calls itself Palestinian now exists and wants self-determination, and most Israelis are willing to give it to them in exchange for an end to the conflict. But for any outside group to recognize a state by that name prior to a willingness on their part to end their war against Israel is to not merely prejudge peace negotiations but aids a campaign to destroy the Jewish state. Until the Palestinians choose peace and put away their dream of a nation that stretches from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean instead of Israel, they should be made to wait for a map that says “Palestine.”