Making Cyprus whole again

Unlike the agreed objective for resolving the Israel-Palestine dispute – a two-state solution – the final agreement for Cyprus aims to establish a unified national state.

Peres and Cypriot president 370 (photo credit: Courtesy President’s Residence)
Peres and Cypriot president 370
(photo credit: Courtesy President’s Residence)
A framework agreement leading to peace talks and the resolution of a long-running dispute. Sounds familiar? No, not the Israel-Palestine negotiations, which have not reached that stage yet. But they are, in a sense, being upstaged by the reunification talks currently under way in Cyprus between the leaders of the Greek portion of that divided island, and the Turkish.
On February 11, at the disused Nicosia international airport in the UN-operated buffer zone separating the two Cypruses, Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades met his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Dervis Erogluy. Their meeting was made possible because, a few days earlier, after months of UN-brokered talks and the intervention of the US in the person of Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, a road map for the talks was agreed.
Two major factors lie behind this renewed bid to end the Greco-Turkish dispute following the last failed attempt in 2012. They are the EU and oil.
It  was in April 1987 that Turkey knocked on the EU’s door and asked to be let in. Twenty-seven years later Turkey is still lingering on the threshold – and the Cyprus issue is one reason why.
Historically the population of Cyprus has consisted of about 75 percent Greek and 25 percent Turkish origin. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, Greek Cypriots began to press for Enosis − union with Greece. Matters came to a head in 1974 when the military junta then controlling Greece staged a coup in Cyprus and deposed the president.  Five days later, Turkey invaded and seized the northern portion of the island. The Turkish invasion ended in the partition of Cyprus along a UN-monitored Green Line. In 1983 the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus declared independence. Turkey is the only country in the world which recognizes it.
Greece itself was admitted to the EU as far back as 1981; Cyprus (the portion that is not occupied by Turkey) became a full member in 2004. So one major stumbling block to Turkey’s accession was the fact that the country was at daggers drawn with two established EU members. The reunification of Cyprus by agreement, and with the approval of Greece, would remove that particular obstacle to Turkey’s application. There are, though, a variety of other difficulties for Turkey to overcome if her bid is eventually to succeed.
Perhaps more important in changing the dynamics of the long-unresolved conflict are Cyprus’s untapped offshore gas and oil riches, and the huge natural gas finds in waters off neighboring Israel. Hubert Faustmann, associate professor of history and political science at Nicosia University, believes that the lack of a Cyprus settlement after 40 years of division is hindering Israel’s intention to cooperate with Nicosia in exporting gas.  Moreover, he says, it is the current cooperation in energy issues between Turkey and Israel that triggered the American intervention.
”Washington has put so much weight behind this latest peace effort because oil and gas is a game-changer in the wider context. It’s a win-win situation for all.”
Israel is seeking to diversify by way of a gas pipeline through Cyprus waters to Turkey, and to invest in a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant on the island. “But,” said Faustman, “Israel won’t give its gas to Cyprus unless there is a solution.” He is right.
What sort of outcome do the peace negotiators have in mind for a reunified Cyprus?  Clues lie in the statements issued by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and by the Security Council itself as the talks got under way. 
Ban Ki-Moon welcomed the re-launching of negotiations aimed at reaching “a comprehensive settlement” of the Cyprus problem. “The United Nations will continue to support the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots in their efforts to reunify the island and move on from decades of separation. I personally pledge our resolute commitment to these efforts.”
In its own press statement, the Security Council expressed the hope that the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders would take advantage of the opportunity “to reach a comprehensive settlement based on a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with political equality.”
It seems that the targeted outcome for these renewed reunification talks is the eventual establishment of a federal government in Cyprus with a single international personality, consisting of a Turkish Cypriot Constituent State and a Greek Cypriot Constituent State, each of equal status.
In short,Turkey’s seizure of northern Cyprus back in 1974 will, in a sense, be ratified and authenticated by the new status for the island. Unlike the agreed objective for resolving the Israel-Palestine dispute – a two-state solution – the final agreement for Cyprus aims to establish a unified national state:  two ethnic communities preserving as much administrative autonomy as possible, but agreeing to merge sovereignty.  For Greek Cyprus and Turkish Cyprus that might indeed be a workable solution, since each community recognizes its ethnic neighbor’s historic rights, and neither lays claim to the whole island.  For Israel and Palestine it would be an unworkable impossibility.
The writer is the author of One Year in the History of Israel and Palestine (2011) and writes the blog “A Mid-East Journal” (