Middle East Roundtable
Edition 19 Volume 6 - May 15, 2008
Two peace processes: Cyprus and Israel-Palestine
• Peace by the end of 2008? - Nimrod Goren
Why is Cyprus in a better position to reach an agreement by the end of the year?
• New openings for a Cyprus settlement? - Maria Hadjipavlou
Christofias' statements make me believe that a new political culture may arise.
• United Greek Cypriots an example for divided Palestinians - Michael Jansen
Palestinians have not exhausted peaceful mass political action against Israel's occupation forces as a tool for gaining attention.
• How far can leaders lead? - Nese Yasin
For the first time, Cyprus has two leaders who really believe in co-existence.
Peace by the end of 2008?
Two intractable conflicts, distanced only 400 kilometers apart, are targeted for resolution by the end of 2008. On November 27, 2007, US President George W. Bush announced that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to "make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008". Four months later, on March 21, 2008, Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat declared after meeting newly-elected President of the Republic of Cyprus Dimitris Christofias that "we want to solve the Cyprus problem as soon as possible. Our position is [to do that] by the end of 2008."
After years of stalemate, 2008 sees a renewed effort to resolve both conflicts. Almost mid-way through the year, though, it seems that should peace be reached by the end of 2008 it will more likely be shared by Turkish and Greek Cypriots than by Israelis and Palestinians.
The two conflicts have a long history dating back to the nineteenth century and are based on ethnic, religious and national rifts. Both focus nowadays on political realities shaped in recent decades--the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 and the partition of Cyprus in 1974. Since, numerous attempts at resolving them have resulted in failure, most notably the 2000 Camp David summit and the 2004 Annan plan. These attempts touched upon core issues shared by both conflicts: recognition and self-determination, return of refugees, evacuation of settlements, land ownership, traumas and national symbols. However, the desired solutions for each conflict are entirely different. While the Israeli-Palestinian peace process aims at permanent partition in a two-state framework, the objective in Cyprus is to avoid such partition and to reunify the island under agreed-upon conditions.
Why is Cyprus in a better position to reach an agreement by the end of the year? Not only due to the extreme Israeli-Palestinian violence of recent years and to the current intra-Palestinian Fateh-Hamas feud. Pro-peace political leadership, public support for peace, and incentives for conflict resolution, which exist in Cyprus but are lacking in the Israeli-Palestinian context, are also vital features of a successful peace process.
Concerning political leadership, in Israel and the PA there is a leadership crisis. Both are led by leaders whose political faith is unclear, who suffer low levels of approval and political support and who declare their support for peace but engage in mutual-blaming for the lack of progress toward it. Greek and Turkish Cypriots, on the other hand, seem to be led by two popular leaders who share long-lasting personal and ideological bonds, who were elected based on pro-peace manifestos, who aim to bring peace through an internal process and not one dictated by foreign powers and who have the ability to translate their commitment to peace into visible facts on the ground and cross-border confidence-building measures.
Turning to public support, despite ongoing activities by peace NGOs, Israelis and Palestinians are separated and lack exchange possibilities. Recent public-opinion polls show that a majority among them lacks belief in peace, thinks that the Olmert-Abbas meetings should be stopped, that a Palestinian state will not be established within five years and that their personal security is not assured. In contrast, Greek and Turkish societies include a strong pro-peace constituency with a genuine belief that peace is both desirable and feasible. The gradual opening of crossing points along the border enables more mobility and exchange between the sides and facilitates joint civil society endeavors that become widespread and assist in fostering a sense of mutual understanding and shared destiny.
As for incentives toward peace, the international community has not offered Israelis and Palestinians incentives that address collective needs and can transform conflict-oriented social beliefs and policies. The Arab peace plan is the closest to such an incentive. Current support for peace in Israel and the PA is mostly due to fear of a worse alternative. In Cyprus, the European Union membership that awaits Turkish Cypriots following reunification serves as a mega-incentive for peace. It secured Turkish Cypriot support for the Annan plan in 2004 and still is a major catalyst. Greek Cypriots do not enjoy such an external incentive and their support for peace includes a component of fear of a worse alternative--a Kosovo-like scenario in the northern part of Cyprus.
Prospects for peace in 2008 are higher in Cyprus. Yet a deal there is not within easy reach. A genuine attempt at resolving an intractable conflict requires a complex process of dealing with symbols and sensitive issues and willingness for historical compromises. Good will is essential for such a process, but it does not bring peace by itself. Israelis and Palestinians should follow closely as such a process takes place in the neighboring island. Lessons learned from there, together with local initiatives, innovative policy-planning and fresh leadership can bring peace to the Middle East. If not in 2008, then perhaps in 2009.- Published 15/5/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org
Nimrod Goren is a research fellow at the Harry S. Truman Research Center for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is the executive director of the Young Israeli Forum for Cooperation.
New openings for a Cyprus settlement?
The Cyprus conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been on the international agenda for many decades and both remain unresolved. Both have been called intractable and deeply-rooted conflicts. The causes of the intractability are many and multi-layered: historic, foreign interventions, competing nationalisms, economic asymmetries, leadership issues and psychological issues--such as a sense of victimhood and feelings of injustice and traumas that place all the blame on the other who is constructed as the enemy. One big difference between the two conflicts is the level of violence, which in the case of Israel and Palestine is a big problem as are the restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, the occupation and the building of settlements. These last two issues Cypriots also have to deal with.
There have been numerous opportunities to solve the Cyprus conflict. In the February 2008 presidential elections in the Republic of Cyprus, the Greek Cypriots elected Dimitris Christofias, secretary-general of the communist party AKEL--the first left-wing president. He succeeded Tassos Papadopoulos, who did almost nothing to promote a solution and was so perceived by the European Union and the international community. For the first time since the 2004 referenda and the failure of the "Annan Plan", which led to a renewed environment of mistrust, betrayal and frustration, there is now a new hope that the Cyprus conflict can be resolved.
Personally, I found three of the new president's many statements very significant. This makes me believe that a new political culture may arise. One is his declaration that "we want to find a solution that will come from the Cypriots for the Cypriots." This is the first time a president so clearly says what many of us in the bi-communal and rapprochement movement have been promoting. This statement points to the need to undertake our own responsibility in working toward a solution and is a departure from the "blame the other" model and conspiracy theories.
Second, in all his public speeches Christofias refers not only to the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat but also to the Turkish Cypriot community. This has enhanced the presence and visibility of Turkish Cypriots and the need for a joint struggle in the Greek Cypriot public debate and mental frame.
Third, Christofias said "we need to prepare our society for a solution". This means it is not enough to "want a solution"--we also have to build the culture for a solution. This entails public acknowledgment of past mistakes, mutual forgiveness for past hurts and trauma we inflicted on each other, changes in the education systems and media so as to turn them both into institutions of reconciliation and coexistence, and empowering civil society and legitimating its contribution to peace-building. As American diplomat Harold Saunders said, "some things states can do and other things citizens." This implies the inauguration of a new political culture based on a consensual, inclusive model. This model seems to me to be of value to the Israeli/Palestinian process, which cannot bear fruit unless there is a ceasefire on both sides.
The two leaders, Christofias and Talat, met in the presence of a United Nations representative on March 21 and agreed among other things to open Ledra Street in divided Nicosia. This was indeed an historic moment and the result of citizens' mobilization from both communities. It created renewed people-to-people contacts and reconnected shop owners and old neighbors.
Another decision was the appointment of working groups and expert committees that have already begun working to produce creative ideas on different aspects of the conflict: governance, property, refugees, cultural heritage, economic resources and development, etc. Both leaders also expressed their desire to work toward a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation as soon as possible. Both expect the committees and working groups to produce substantive results before they meet again toward the end of May to evaluate the results and then hopefully start negotiations at the end of June.
The atmosphere generated by the media and internationally is one of new possibilities and renewed optimism. Both leaders have known each other for a long time and have cooperated in the past; this personal relationship surely impacts their commitment to change. Talat said as much to Christofias: "If we fail to reunite the island, partition will ensue". Christofias replied with tears in his eyes, "I know, that is why I ran for president."
Christofias' first two months in office have produced very favorable poll results, with 75 percent of Greek Cypriots stating that he is executing his duties very well and remaining faithful to his election program and more than 80 percent accepting a high degree of coexistence with Turkish Cypriots. These are indeed big changes at the societal level compared to the last four sterile years since the defeat of the Annan Plan in 2004.
Another very important factor of course is Cyprus' membership in the European Union, which together with Britain and the United States favors a solution. One big concern, however, relates to Turkey's position and its internal crisis as well as its problematic progress toward EU harmonization. There are also political parties in Cyprus that believe Talat is not acting independently but is under Ankara's control, e.g., when he repeats what Ankara said lately about a "two-state solution" and advocates continuation of Turkish guarantees. Such statements mar the prospects. Still, there were also instances in the past when Talat took courageous steps. In any case, the leadership factor cannot by itself bring about change; there also needs to be a well-informed polity and a strong civil society.
A solution of the Cyprus conflict would have a positive impact in the troubled Middle East region that is so close to us. This explains the renewed interest of the international community, of Britain and the US and the European Commission mediators. A solution would allow Turkey to recognize the Republic of Cyprus and open its sea and air ports to Cypriots, while facilitating Turkey's EU accession process.
The difficult issues demand brave political decisions; I believe that with support at both domestic and international levels the two Cypriot leaders can really achieve this. This can then become an example of good leadership and a commitment to a mutually shared peaceful future. If the Cyprus conflict were resolved, this could generate a positive precedent for the Israeli and Palestinian leadership.- Published 15/5/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org
Maria Hadjipavlou is an assistant professor at the University of Cyprus specializing in conflict resolution. She has been involved in track II activities and efforts to build bridges of mutual understanding with Turkish Cypriots for over three decades.
United Greek Cypriots an example for divided Palestinians
There are a number of parallels between the Cypriot nakba, the catastrophe of 1974, and the Palestinian nakba of 1948. Cyprus was invaded and the northern third of the island occupied by Turkey, a valued and favored member of the western alliance, in accordance with a plan drawn up in the mid-1950s. Nearly all Greek Cypriots living in the occupied area were driven from their homes, lands and businesses that were expropriated under an absentee property law similar to that adopted by Israel. Like Israel, Turkey erased the character of the north by changing place names and allowing the pillage of religious, historical and archaeological sites. Turkey also refused to reach a settlement involving the reunification of the island and followed Israel's example of creating "facts on the ground" to make it difficult if not impossible for Greek Cypriots to return to the north. It is significant that today, Israelis are the second largest investors in northern Cyprus (after mainland Turks) and that many property developments executed after 2004 resemble Israel's West Bank settlements.
Before discussing lessons for Palestinians of the Greek Cypriot nakba, it is necessary to point out several major differences between the two cases. These differences gave Greek Cypriots huge advantages over Palestinians. Greek Cypriots, the 82 percent majority in the island republic that won its independence from Britain in 1960, enjoyed sovereignty and national legitimacy when the island was invaded and partitioned by Turkey. Palestine had not emerged from British occupation when the Zionists/Israelis established their state on 78 per cent of the country's land and expelled 85 per cent of native Palestinians.
Turkey's actions constituted a flagrant act of aggression against a member state of the UN and a major violation of international law. Israel claims there never was a Palestinian state and portrays its seizure of Palestinian territory as self-defense. The 162,000 Greek Cypriots who became refugees in the south were still living in their own country under their own government. Palestinians were dispersed and divided between Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. Greek Cypriots live under a democratic system of governance and have a strong say in their fate. In 2004 they voted against a UN plan that was supposed to reunite the island but, in fact, confirmed and legitimized de facto partition. Palestinians have never enjoyed even a moment of national sovereignty and independence and never had a measure of self-rule until the quasi-governmental Palestinian Authority was created in 1996.
Now for the lessons. Firstly, since the Cypriot nakba, Greek Cypriots have generally remained united in the face of Turkish occupation and international pressure to capitulate to Turkey's demands, thereby legitimizing partition. While Greek Cypriots have had serious partisan disagreements over the handling of the "Cyprus problem," they have resolved their differences democratically through elections. Furthermore, their political parties have been compelled to answer to the voters, notably in 2004 when the communist AKEL party leadership reluctantly accepted the rejection by a majority of its members of the UN plan. Palestinians have always suffered from extreme factionalism and are now divided between the western-backed PA sitting in Ramallah and the Hamas regime in Gaza, which took over the Strip by force last June. Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied territories need to unite and to make their elected rulers accountable.
Secondly, Greek Cypriot refugees have lodged successful cases with the European Court of Human Rights with the objective of securing compensation for financial losses due to the denial of enjoyment of their properties in the north. Two Greek Cypriots have been awarded substantial financial compensation. Although Israel cannot be taken to this court, Palestinians can raise loss of enjoyment cases in Israel itself as well as Britain, the US, and other countries where Israel has assets. Cypriot precedents can be studied and cited.
Thirdly, the European court's judgments also affirmed Greek Cypriot rights to their lost land and homes and secured international legal recognition of Turkey's political domination of northern Cyprus, making Ankara ultimately responsible for whatever happens there. While Israel is similarly responsible for developments in Palestine, Palestinians have not made the case for Israeli accountability as an occupying power or ensured that international public opinion understands the situation. Now is a good time to do this because world opinion is far less pro-Israel than a decade ago.
Finally, during the 1980s Greek Cypriot women staged well-organized incursions across the green line that divides the island. At first, scores and finally thousands of women, marching under the banner "Women Walk Home", confronted NATO-armed Turkish troops along the line that divides Cyprus, putting pressure on the UN, the international community and Turkey to end the occupation and reunify the island. While Cyprus remains divided the women succeeded in reminding the world of this uncomfortable fact and secured the attention of the world powers and the UN. This has maintained pressure for a solution. Palestinians have not exhausted peaceful mass political action against Israel's occupation forces as a tool for gaining attention and building pressure on Israel and its allies to reach a respectable settlement.- Published 15/5/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org
Michael Jansen is a Cyprus-based Middle East analyst, reporter and author who specializes in Palestinian affairs.
How far can leaders lead?
The day the Ledra gate opened in Nicosia, I was at the Greek Cypriot side of the dividing line, inside the excited crowd. Some friends helped me to climb on the plinth of the Memorial for the Missing Persons where I could see the other side better. Somebody from the crowd asked my friend Yannakis who was standing by my side, what he saw. "Just people like us waiting for the opening," he said. "Yes, I understand, some pseudo-people" (an ironic Greek Cypriot reference to Turkish Cypriot institutions), the other commented jokingly.
Yannakis then turned to me and asked, "Neshe, do you remember? Did Papadopoulos lose the election in the first round?" Surprised by his question, I replied, "of course". Yannakis showed all his teeth with a smile. "I just want to hear it again and again", he said. That day it became obvious to me that the atmosphere on the Greek Cypriot part of the island had shifted after the replacement of the hard-line President Tassos Papadopoulos with the left-wing Dimitris Christofias, who came to office with the promise of a federal solution to the Cyprus problem.
The real breakthrough in Cyprus was after the first opening of crossings in 2003. The two sides were then able to feel and touch each other. The devastating "no communication" policy of the previous 29 years had only helped create a mountain of lies and misinformation between the two sides. The media of both sides had not only been selective and manipulative but also distorted information and was intentionally misleading.
After the opening of the crossings, communication was easier--but the political anomaly became more apparent: two states, one internationally recognized the other not, existing side by side and trying to impose their existence upon the other. By convincing his people to vote "no" to the UN peace plan in 2004, President Papadopoulos was sending a message that the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus could survive as is and Turkish Cypriots would gradually be integrated into it. Yet it did not take long for people to see that this was not working and that the island was heading toward permanent division. In the next election he was replaced by Christofias.
While these changes were happening on the Greek Cypriot-populated southern part of the island, on the Turkish Cypriot side the disappointment and despair created by the Greek Cypriot "no" to the UN Plan and the rejection felt during the "no negotiations" Papadopoulos period continued. Christofias also did not have a good image among Turkish Cypriots because of his support for the Greek Cypriot "no" during the referendum. Turkish Cypriots, although surprised and happy to say good-bye to Papadopoulos, are still suspicious of the new president and treat his statements cautiously. There is still a problem of language and translation; most of the time distorted messages reach the other side. Some intentional manipulation is also being promoted by partitionists.
The post-referendum Papadopoulos period was one of despair. The absence of any real vision for the future had a lot of bad implications for many unresolved issues. The question of property, which was already one of the most complicated, has taken an even more difficult course. After the referendum, the disappointed Turkish Cypriots started building on Greek Cypriot property allocated to them. Many of these houses are also sold to foreigners, creating an even more complicated situation and a tough issue for the negotiating table.
The positive development now is that for the first time Cyprus has two leaders who really believe in co-existence and in a common country. Due to the two publics' high expectations, both leaders are experiencing a lot of pressure. Their failure might bring a permanent division of the island. Judging by their efforts to maintain silence rather than making negative statements, they seem to be aware of this. Nor, in discussing their possible success or failure, can we disregard the role of other actors, especially Turkey; the Turkish army in particular is a hard nut to crack. Turkish intervention would complicate the situation for Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat. The European Union role is also quite crucial since the EU seems to be the sole agent capable of pressuring Turkey.
Having reached its sixtieth anniversary, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict seems to have experienced a similar shift with a change of leaders: Ariel Sharon replaced by Ehud Olmert and Yasser Arafat replaced by Mahmoud Abbas. Both Olmert and Abbas seem to believe in the need for peace, yet they may not be as capable as their predecessors of implementing change.
Clearly, any positive development in one of the conflicts would set an example for the other and usher in hope. A solution to either of the problems would also ease the atmosphere in the region and create a new paradigm whereby conflicts would be dealt with using more creative thinking.- Published 15/5/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org
Nese Yasin is a poet and writer. She has been active with peace-building activities in the island. Ten years ago she crossed to the Greek-Cypriot- populated southern part of the island to protest division. She is currently living there and teaching Turkish language and literature at the University of Cyprus.