EDITORIAL: Something sinister on the horizon

Tue, Jun 02, 2009 - Page 8

Critics of Israel often argue that building settlements inside Palestinian territory belies the stated intention to work toward a two-state solution. By creating facts on the ground, critics argue, Israel is making it impossible for Palestinians to create a viable, independent state, thus condemning the two peoples to a shared future of uncertainty.

The problem with facts on the ground is that once they have been created, it is extremely difficult to undo them. When it comes to the Israeli settlements, turning back the clock would mean dismantling housing for more than a quarter of a million Israelis in the West Bank.

Throughout the years, many Israelis — and most Palestinians — have strongly opposed these settlements, but a succession of Israeli governments either did nothing to prevent “natural growth” or adopted policies that encouraged their expansion. As a result, these facts on the ground have made conflict resolution much more difficult.

There is a lesson here that every Taiwanese should keep in mind as the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) create their own facts on the ground in the Taiwan Strait.

Through a series of accords and possibly an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) sometime next year, Taiwan’s fate is becoming dangerously coupled to China’s. Just as in Israel, decisions about a people’s future are being made without the consent of a large swath of the population.

This raises two scenarios.

First, every pact signed with China takes Taiwan closer to what could be called a geopolitical event horizon — the point at which the process of unification is simply a matter of time.

As long as both sides see developments as beneficial, momentum toward Beijing’s desired result will be relatively smooth.

The second arises if, a few years down the road, Taiwan’s leadership elects to change course and avoid this threshold of inevitability. This would likely see the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) regaining power in 2012.

But after four years of added facts on the ground in the Taiwan Strait, it is difficult to imagine how a DPP government could turn back the clock — or at least do so without paying very dearly.

For one, China would not give in — just as Israel has refused to bend to international pressure to stop building, let alone entirely dismantle, its settlements in the West Bank.

Furthermore, the DPP government would be hostage, more than ever exposed to Chinese blackmail and threats of retaliation should it seek to weaken the various ties forged by its predecessor. Once again, a DPP government would be seen as a troublemaker, one that risks sparking war in the Taiwan Strait. This is the refrain we are bound to hear in the lead-up to elections in 2012.

The assumption within the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the CCP seems to be that cross-strait rapprochement is inevitable.

Perhaps so. But another assumption — a dangerously naive assumption — appears to be that the KMT will never lose its hold on power.

All the facts on the ground that are beginning to appear in the Taiwan Strait have the potential to be seeds of bitter conflict only a few years from now.