Not so long ago, when Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) of the Democratic Progressive Party was president of Taiwan, Washington berated him for seeking UN membership for Taiwan or holding referendums on the matter. By acting with dignity and democratically, Chen was somehow endangering the peace in the Taiwan Strait, acting provocatively and threatening the precious “status quo.”
Fast-forward to Monday this week, when the leader of another US democratic ally — this time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — delivered a major policy speech that for all intents and purposes scuttled any chance of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Finally “bowing” to pressure from US President Barack Obama, Netanyahu did for the first time mention the words “Palestinian state,” but as one Israeli writer put it, he uttered those words “like a rotten tooth pulled from its socket without anesthesia.”
In his speech, the hardline Netanyahu also abandoned previous peace strategies, made no reference to Muslims’ connection to the land, and refused to freeze Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank. He also avoided mention of an Arab initiative that would grant recognition to Israel in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from land it captured in the war of 1967. His request that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state also killed any chance of right of return for Palestinian refugees who have live abroad — often in refugee camps — since they (or their ancestors) were expelled at the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.
His conditions for a Palestinian state, meanwhile, included ironclad security guarantees, full disarmament in Palestine, no Palestinian control of airspace, no right to form military alliances, and Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem — all of which would make it impossible for Palestine to be a viable state.
Netanyahu’s tone, journalist Akiva Eldar wrote in the Israeli Ha’aretz newspaper, was “degrading and disrespectful … that’s not how one brings down a wall of enmity between two nations, that’s not how trust is built.”
And yet, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said yesterday that Netanyahu’s speech was “a big step forward,” while Obama said he saw “positive movement.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, called it a “first, important step in the right direction toward realizing a two-state solution,” former US president Bill Clinton saw Netanyahu’s speech as “opening moves,” while the EU dubbed it “a step in the right direction.” All of a sudden, Gertrude Stein’s rose no longer was a rose.
To be fair, many still insisted that Israeli should freeze its settlements. But that is beside the point. Rather than be cause for optimism, Netanyahu’s speech spelled disaster and may have been made to ward off pressure from Obama. In other words, Netanyahu remains a hardline who yields to the whims of the Israeli religious right-wing. Palestinians and pretty much the rest of the Arab world saw through this and will reasonably treat the speech for what it was — empty rhetoric. Violence will eventually resume, and Palestinians will once again be blamed for snubbing yet another “peace” initiative by an Israeli leader.
It is ironic that in their criticism of Chen, the US and the West — which all endeavored to frustrate his efforts to join the UN or hold referendums — never once qualified their criticism with calls on China to stop threatening Taiwan with 1,400 missiles and military maneuvers, or block it from joining multilateral organizations. Chen exercised democracy and was reviled for doing so. Netanyahu undoes years of peace efforts and is hailed as taking a step in the right direction. Chen was a “troublemaker,” an “extremist” who threatened peace in the Taiwan Strait yet never departed from democratic norms or relied on force to achieve his political aims. Netanyahu, who never shied from unleashing the might of his military, is taking “big steps forward” by aborting peace and seeking, quite undemocratically, we must add, to turn Israel into an exclusionary “Jewish state” based on “race” and/or religion.
Granted, Israel and Taiwan are a poor analogy at best, and the challenges they face to their survival as nations are substantially different. But both, in Washington’s book, are supposedly on the “right” side, our side, and both are supplied with billions of dollars in US weaponry. Why, then, the different treatment?
A slightly different version of this article appeared in the Taipei Times on June 22 under the title “An unenlightened double standard.”