Cyprus par­ti­tion: why it is sud­denly on ev­ery­one’s lips

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.


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