Curfews, fighting and economic embargoes — all part of the Palestinian struggle for statehood — have delayed the implementation of their “state” on the Internet, the dot-ps top level domain.
“In certain times, we had to shut down because we were afraid the fighting would spill over to where our center is,” said Ghassan Qadah, dot-ps administrator and the senior technology advisor to the Palestinian National Authority. “The Intifada really affected the whole thing.”
In March 2000, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers delegated dot-ps as the country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) for the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Country code domains indicate the nation of origin of computers on the Internet such as dot-br for Brazil and dot-jp for Japan.
ICANN’s move came after the United Nations decided to use “PS” as a code to represent the Palestinian Territories in its list of U.N.-recognized countries and territories. The U.N.’s list, ISO3166-1, forms the basis of existing country-code domains on the Internet.
Although the dot-ps domain was properly delegated last year, the ccTLD has languished. Only one domain name is operational — gov.ps — while Qadah and the Palestinians figure out the tricky business of running a domain name registry and registering domains.
All this was complicated by the latest Middle East unrest that began in October 2000 and has left almost 400 dead, most of them Palestinians, Qadah said.
“We couldn’t buy equipment, and even conducting interviews was difficult because of the siege on cities and towns,” Qadah said.
The servers necessary for the operation were delayed by three months at Israeli-controlled borders. Qadah said the movement of the engineers who run the Palestinian Authority’s wide area network were severely limited.
“Most of the problems we are facing is the inability to travel,” he said. “Most of our engineers come from all over.”
But perseverance has paid off for the Palestinians: “We expect the whole domain to be operational for commercial purposes by the end of (January),” he said.
To prevent a land rush of domain names, only Palestinians and Palestinian entities will be able to register dot-ps domain names for the first 3 to 6 months of operations, he said. After that, anyone will be able to register domain names under dot-ps.
“We will protect international trademarks and we will protect geographic locations like jerusalem.ps,” Qadah said.
Like the fate of Jerusalem on the ground, the fate of jerusalem.ps remains unclear. Qadah said that the domain, along with other geographic domains, will be reserved. He added, however, that a decision remains to be made about the use and ownership of jerusalem.ps.
Qadah said that local Internet service providers like Palnet, the largest Palestinian ISP, will offer dot-ps domain name registrations. Indeed, Palnet and companies like it are eager to switch their URLs to the dot-ps space.
“We expect most Palestinians that are in dot-com or dot-org will move to dot-ps,” Qadah said.
Until now, the relatively few Palestinians with Internet access at home had to choose between ISPs that used generic domain extensions like dot-com, or ISPs that used dot-il for Israel.
“Because of the political situation, a lot of Palestinians didn’t want dot-il in their e-mail address,” explained Yaser Doleh, the technical administrator for the dot-ps domain.
Qadah said that the dot-ps name space means a lot to his people, many of whom literally are not free to move about their own neighborhoods due to curfews imposed on them by the Israeli government. “I think it’s an important symbol for the Palestinian state,” he said.
Not everyone agrees. Jeremy Kutner, a Harvard law student at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, believes that country code Top Level Domains are divisive and balkanize the Internet.
“Observers had previously conceived of the Internet as a borderless universe where remnants of nationalism have no place,” Kutner said in an article he recently co-wrote. “However, this global ideal seems to have been slowly displaced by a nationalist reality.”
Kutner, who is Jewish, said that the current country code system leads to what he called the inappropriate result of the dot-ps domain: “It seems to legitimize their case and that’s going to cause political problems,” he said.
Ahmad Mousleh, a sales manager for Palnet, said it’s a question of equality. “All the countries in the world have their own domain name and we should be like everyone else,” Mousleh said.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has spilled onto cyberspace before, with both sides guilty of waging an infowar of hacking attacks and mass-mailed hate messages.
Doleh said he experienced this first hand as the U.S. mirror of the dot-ps registry came under attack. “There were a lot of attempts to break in to the server,” he said.
“The Israelis have accepted the premise of a Palestinian state and so they have not given us any problems with the dot-ps domain,” Qadah said.