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Google endorses Palestine as an independent state

Think Google chairman Eric Schmidt's recent romp around 'Axis of Evil' stalwart North Korea was going to be the search giant's only controversial political move of 2013? Think again.

The Internet behemoth has waded into what is arguably the world's most contentious political issue after it gave de facto recognition to Palestine as an independent state.

Google altered the wording on its local homepage to "Palestine," from "Palestinian territories" - a bold move being interpreted by some as tantamount to a digital endorsement of the Palestinian cause.

"We're changing the name 'Palestinian Territories' to 'Palestine' across our products. We consult a number of sources and authorities when naming countries," said Google spokesman Nathan Tyler, according to the BBC.

Tyler added: "In this case, we are following the lead of the UN, Icann [the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers], ISO [International Organisation for Standardisation] and other international organisations."

The subject of Palestinian statehood is a hugely divise political issue closely tied to regional hostilities between Palestine and its neighbour, Israel.

The United Nations recently recognised Palestine as a "non-member observer state," in a move that was strongly opposed by both Israel and its chief ally, the United States.

Israel refuses to recognise an official Palestinian state until peace talks between the two parties are finalised, a process which is seemingly always stalled and hinges on the controversial issue of national borders.

Unsurprisingly, Palestinian officials were buoyed by the news that Google now apparently regards it as an independent entity.

"This is a step in the right direction, a timely step and one that encourages others to join in and give the right definition and name for Palestine instead of Palestinian territories," commented Dr Sabri Saidam, advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

He added: "Most of the traffic that happens now happens in the virtual world and this means putting Palestine on the virtual map as well as on the geographic maps."

However, it is interesting to note that the recognition only seems to extend to the tagline on the homepage of Google Palestine for the time being - start to type in a search for 'Palestine' on the UK version of Google Maps, for instance, and you'll notice that Google still brings up 'Palestinian Territories' in its predictive text.

Speaking on behalf of the Israeli foreign ministry, Yigal Palmor, seemed less than pleased with Google's decision.

"This change raises questions about the reasons behind this surprising involvement of what is basically a private Internet company in international politics - and on the controversial side," he said, as reported by Sky News.