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What does a name bring? The battle for recognition in Occupied Palestine

January 24, 2014 at 12:44 am

Soon, ‘Palestinian National Authority’ will become a label reminiscent of the pre-General Assembly vote that saw Palestine upgraded at the United Nations to non-member observer status, if all goes ahead with President Mahmoud Abbas’ new plans. The Palestinian President has requested official documents – from stamps to passports – to read ‘the State of Palestine’ and for foreign ministries, embassies and media outlets to adopt the phrase after the success of the vote at the UN.

The move marks a step towards sovereignty and independence, developments Palestine has long deserved. The practical move also defies Abbas’ opponents, who in the aftermath of the upgrade, declared their new status was purely symbolic and would change nothing on the ground. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev has labelled this move as “insignificant”, yet Brazil, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras have already taken on the new name.

It will come as no surprise though that there is opposition from the usual suspects. Over in Washington, the U.S. State Department has declared that it will continue to use the ‘Palestinian Authority’ and not ‘State of Palestine’, until peace is achieved through negotiated agreements. Robbie Sabel, a former advisor to Israel’s foreign ministry told Al Jazeera that the renaming “undermines the peace process”; being a unilateral move, it dodges negotiation initiatives. 

In November, opponents spun the same arguments in an attempt to block the vote at the UN. When Palestine won unanimously, Israel declared punitive measures, namely the building of settlements intended to cut off East Jerusalem from the West Bank. It’s likely the name change will see its own set of punishments declared, and they will probably come in the form of settlement expansion.

Abbas is not the only one toying with names in the region. Last week, an academic publishing house apologised for removing Israel from a map of the Middle East and replacing it with ‘Occupied Territories.’ The map was inside an English language textbook used in the UK, developed in association with a university in the United Arab Emirates, and was discovered by Liz Wiseman, a teacher in a further education college in Nottingham.

The incident has sparked a fresh debate about the nature of Palestinian textbooks, which in the past have been accused of inciting hatred and violence, and fallen short of encouraging peace, tolerance and coexistence. Writing in Israel Today, Ryan Jones said: “It is not only in the Middle East where students, both adults and children, are being taught that Israel has no right to exist. The more students around the world are fed this brand of propaganda, the more remote prospects for true peace become.”

Unhappy Israel Today readers called Garnet Publishing, the publisher responsible for the textbook, asking for an explanation. Spokesman Dr. Nicky Platt offered sincere apologies, and scanned a page from the new book, “correctly labelled,” as proof. There is now no sign on the map, at all, of Palestine.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.