(photo credit: Jay Abramoff)
Israel Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman has stated that his ideal solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict is based on the situation in Cyprus. It can only be assumed that he either does not know what has happened as a result of that island's division or does not care.
Since 1974, Cyprus has been de-facto split into two states, the Republic of Cyprus, which enjoys international recognition and governs approximately 64 percent of the island and 75% of its inhabitants; and the Turkish Republic of north Cyprus, which was declared in 1983 but is recognized by Turkey alone. Up until 2004, north Cyprus was almost completely isolated politically, geographically and economically from the rest of the world.
Lieberman says that there is no peace in Cyprus, but there is security. In north Cyprus until two years ago, there was also almost no economic growth.
Turkish Cypriots are not able to ship or sell their products to anywhere besides Turkey itself. Turkish buyers, which in many cases is the Turkish government itself, can dictate prices that are much lower than an open market would allow. In addition, now that this situation has been in place for more than three decades, there is significant resistance in north Cyprus and Turkey itself to making any change that would benefit north Cyprus as a whole. A recent pilot project that attempted to export northern Cypriot oranges via the south failed because the north Cypriot and Turkish port workers and shipping companies protested.
On the other hand, the Republic of Cyprus was admitted to the EU in May 2004, and its citizens enjoy the benefits of belonging to the world's largest trading bloc.
In 2004, just prior to the Republic of Cyprus joining the EU, referenda were held on both sides of the Green Line on the "Annan Plan," brokered by the UN secretary-general over the previous two years, that called for two federated states and a weak central government. While the north Cyprus voters overwhelmingly approved the plan, the inhabitants of the Republic of Cyprus rejected it.
Since then, the EU (and the US) have been working - against the Republic of Cyprus's efforts - to establish direct trade and economic links to north Cyprus as a way of encouraging the Turkish Cypriot community to continue to support reunification. Right after the referenda, the EU approved $311 million in aid to the north (about $2,000 per capita!).
IN THE tourism sector, up until two years ago, anyone interested in flying to north Cyprus had to first touch down in Turkey. It is easy to understand why relatively few tourists choose to visit north Cyprus instead of the Republic of Cyprus. For instance, Israelis have made the Republic of Cyprus a top vacation destination, while a mere 330 Israelis entered north Cyprus in 2005, according to the north Cyprus Ministry of Tourism.
Because the EU admitted the whole island, the Republic of Cyprus was forced to allow EU citizens to cross the "Green Line" freely, and this alone has sparked significant growth in the north Cyprus tourism industry. The number of people employed in this sector in north Cyprus jumped from 6,699 in 2004 to 7,899 in 2005, an 18% increase in just one year. As a comparison, from 1994 to 2004 the increase was a total of 53%.
Even if the external political situation could be solved, the elephant in the room may be the status of Turkish Cypriots who used to live in the south and the Greek Cypriots who used to live in the north. Following a round of talks in 1975, the two sides transferred 180,000 Greek Cypriots from the north to the south, and 45,000 Turkish Cypriots in the opposite direction.
There is a significant problem regarding ownership of many properties, on both sides of the Green Line. In many cases, the north Cyprus government has leased formerly Greek-owned property to Turkish Cypriots. If a foreigner is interested in buying a vacation apartment, for instance, it is wise to check if the property has a "clear title," meaning that it was never owned by a Greek Cypriot who fled to the south. In fact, a whole district of Famagusta, Varosha, is a ghost town because the properties in the area - including beachfront hotels and apartment buildings - are owned by Greek Cypriots and Europeans.
In fact, there is still a small number Greek Cypriots still living in villages in the north, and believe it or not, they have been designated as refugees by the UN. How strange it must be for a family that has lived in a small northern Cyprus village maybe for centuries to be suddenly they are told that they are refugees.
Finally, a whole generation of Cypriots have grown up not knowing their island neighbors, including their language. The world says "Kyrenia," but the Turkish Cypriots say "Girne."
While Israelis and Palestinians can surely identify with the Cypriots - and argue about which side they directly relate to - it would be wise for Lieberman not to assign either party the role of north Cyprus in any political drama.
The writer, deputy sports editor at the Post, recently visited Cyprus as a guest of the KOBI Center, which promotes business in north Cyprus.