Taiwan has a better case for independence than ‘Palestine’

The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on May 10 to advance the Palestinian Authority’s request for “Palestine” to become the international body’s 194th member. European Union states and Australia caved to their own domestic array of students, labor activists, Arab and Muslim constituencies, and virtue-signaling politicians to push for recognition of a Palestinian state. They were wrong to do so, no matter what antisemitic mobs in Marseille, Manchester, or Melbourne may think.  

Recognizing “Palestine” as an independent state is a mistake for five reasons. First, promoting the Palestinians at the U.N. betrays diplomacy. The core of the Oslo Accords was a compromise: formation of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in exchange for recognition of Israel and renunciation of terrorism.

Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat tested President Bill Clinton by continuing terrorism and quickly concluded that the Oslo architects’ desire to claim success trumped their willingness to hold Arafat accountable. By the George W. Bush administration, the State Department had normalized willingness to turn a blind eye toward Palestinian terrorism. During the current Biden administration, that normalization has extended to Hamas.

Second, the vote’s timing encourages terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic that rests upon its perpetrators’ cost-benefit analysis. To grant Palestinians recognition so soon after the Oct. 7, 2023, terrorist attack rewards terrorism. The message this move sends to Uyghurs, Kurds, Taiwanese, or Somalilanders is that to win recognition, they must kill schoolchildren, bomb restaurants, and hijack aircraft.

Third, retroactive recognition tears apart the international order. Diplomats from rejectionist states such as Iran and virtue-signaling ones such as Australia might say Israel occupies “Palestine,” but no Palestinian state has ever existed. Jordan and Egypt respectively issued birth certificates for those born in the West Bank and Gaza prior to 1967. Prior to 1948, the British did, and before 1917, it was the Ottomans.

There is no analogy to Iraq’s 1990-91 occupation of Kuwait, for example, or Argentina’s annexation of the Falkland Islands in 1982. Rather, it is akin to declaring suddenly that Ukraine occupies the Donetsk People’s Republic or Belgium occupies Wallonia.

Fourth, an independent “Palestine” would be a failed state. Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is in the 20th year of his four-year term. Unlike leaders in Iran, China, Russia, and Azerbaijan, he does not even bother with the charade of elections. Corruption, kleptocracy, and dictatorship mark the Palestinian Authority’s political culture. Hamas is even worse, siphoning aid to terrorists and using schools and hospitals as cover for terrorism.

Fifth, history is not on the Palestinians’ side. Palestinians are a modern creation. Many were Syrians who migrated to Ottoman or British Palestine only after Jewish immigrants drained the swamps and made the land arable. The Palestine Liberation Organization was a cynical creation by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser to promote his anti-Israel, anti-Arab monarchy agenda. Arafat himself was an Egyptian army officer.

Contrast any of these reasons with Taiwan. Despite Beijing’s “One China” rhetoric, Taiwan has remained independent from mainland China for all but a few decades over the last 500 years. Its culture, ethnicity, and religion are fundamentally different. In a 1937 interview with hagiographer Edgar Snow, even Communist Chairman Mao Zedong acknowledged Taiwan to be a different country.

U.S. diplomacy is at its most effective when it plays by its adversaries’ rules and seizes upon the precedents they create. Russia and China both voted to recognize “Palestine” after inserting language that advancing the Palestinian case would not represent a precedent. No matter what the Chinese Communist Party or Kremlin say, however, their Israel-bashing does create precedent.

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Rather than grouse at the U.N.’s overwhelming support for “Palestine,” the State Department should openly cite the vote as reason to recognize Taiwan formally. While Beijing’s bribery and bullying might make Taiwan’s application dead on arrival at the United Nations, this does not matter for a simple reason: What happens in Washington means far more than what happens at Turtle Bay. It is time to use the Palestinian precedent to give the Taiwanese independence. 

Taiwan should be free from the Zhuoshui River to the South China Sea.  

Michael Rubin is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is director of policy analysis at the Middle East Forum and senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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