Cyprus partition: why it is suddenly on everyone’s lips
Three days after 24 April 2004, when the referendum on the Annan Plan was rejected by 76% of Greek Cypriots and accepted by 65% of Turkish Cypriots, I wrote the following in this newspaper about what might happen the next time there is a vote:
“Greek Cypriots could therefore be asked not just to choose between a solution and more of the Cyprus problem, but between a solution and the end of the Cyprus problem: legally recognised partition, with only compensation offered to those dispossessed of their land.”
My reasoning at the time was that the international community was extremely peeved with the Greek Cypriots (and vice versa, of course), so there would be little tolerance for just more status quo the next time there was a vote.
In the ten years since I wrote that I have often thought that I was wrong about that prediction. Thanks primarily to EU membership and UN Security Council Resolutions, to this day, there is still no call from any official quarters for partition.
But all of a sudden the word lips.
The International Crisis Group proposed it as an option in March, just after the talks got under way again the previous month, The Economist said it was a possibility in its article on 29 November, the New York Times asked if the Cyprus problem was “insoluble” on 1 December and the UN Special Advisor on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, warned several times during his most recent visit that the international community could give up on efforts to put the island back together.
“I hope I am the last one for good reasons - that we will end up with a solution - and not the last one because we will all give up and something very different would happen,” he told the state broadcaster CyBC on 27 November.
Perhaps more importantly, peacenik Greek Cypriots who have spent much of their lives working for a solution and being lambasted for it are now starting to say that partition is the answer. Some even believe that their own government is planning for this.
‘partition’ is on everyone’s So, was I right after all? If I was, it will be because of the rapidly changing world around us: the fallout between the West and Russia over Ukraine, Turkey’s apparent drift away from the NATO alliance, renewed cooperation between Israel and Egypt, the threat posed by Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and last, but not least, the discovery of gas in the eastern Mediterranean.
The impact of these developments on traditional alliances is already being felt. Israel and Cyprus are planning to send gas by pipeline to Egypt, and on 20 November Israel suggested a long pipeline from Israel to Greece and Italy.
Such a long pipeline would essentially gobble up all of Israel’s spare gas and would thus push Turkey out of the regional gas picture.
But Turkey, with the help of Russia (Cyprus’ traditional ally), has already fought back. On 1 December, Russia pulled the plug on the South Stream gas pipeline from Russia to Bulgaria and said it will send it to Turkey instead.
Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, said that if the pipeline does continue onto Europe, it will go through Greece.
So, it looks as though this part of the world is beginning to realign itself, with Russia and Turkey (and China and perhaps Iran) to the north, and Egypt and Israel (and the US and EU) to the south. Guess which country is in the middle? If this is indeed the new world order, then Cyprus could go two ways.
In the worst-case scenario, Cyprus, starting with the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), becomes the place where the big powers fight it out, with damaging consequences for everyone involved.
But in the best-case scenario, Cyprus makes friends with all of its neighbours, including Turkey, and, like Switzerland, enjoys a lot of business in the process.
This, I believe, is why the word partition has reared ugly head.
In this rapidly changing world order, an unresolved Cyprus conflict along the new north-south fault line is suddenly a security threat to the big powers.
So a Cyprus solution-any Cyprus solution-becomes a “must have” rather than a “nice to have” for those with big interests in the region.
If my hunches are right, then the “Cypriot-owned” solution probably has only a few months left to run.
After that, if the Cypriots can’t decide to live together, then to remove a potential battleground between north and south, the big powers will force them to live apart. And I doubt there is anything the EU will be able to do about it.