Israel and Cyprus talks to resume from next week

Israel and Cyprus talks to resume from next week

Both talks between Turkey and Israel for the normalization of relations and talks between Turkish and Greek Cyprus for reunification are expected to start again from next week, after a de facto pause over the last few weeks, according to a senior Turkish source.

The pause in the talks on Cyprus was due to two main reasons. The first was the parliamentary election on the Greek side of the island on May 22. That election was something that has been known for months. The surprise factor also delaying the talks was the decision of Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to step down (which he described as “not his own preference”) after a meeting with President Tayyip Erdoğan on May 4. The ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Parti) snap congress was announced for May 22, coincidentally on the same day as the Greek Cypriot elections.

Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım, who is a close confidant of President Erdoğan, is the most spoken candidate for the position of the new AK Parti chairman and prime minister. He looks likely to be the nominee, so long as Erdoğan does not point to another name like Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, whose name has also been mentioned in the political backstage. In either case, the new prime minister is not likely to radically change Turkish foreign policy, although they are likely to have new names in the cabinet.

The most important change in Ankara, which will also affect foreign policy, is that President Erdoğan himself will be more directly taking the steering wheel. That is likely to affect decisive talks on key foreign policy issues like Cyprus. So, depending on the Greek Cypriot election result, Erdoğan may take the lead on the Turkish side in a possible international Cyprus conference in the summer months.

The same applies for talks with Israel. Establishing a new foreign policy set up under his control, Erdoğan (not the prime minister) is likely to have the final say on a potential normalization with Israel. According to both Israeli and Turkish officials, those talks are at an advanced stage. But they have been on de facto hold since Davutoğlu’s announcement that he is stepping down. Relations between the two countries have been dismal since Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish citizens on board the Mavi Marmara ship trying to break the Israeli blockade on the Palestinians in Gaza in 2010. 

Both deals are of strategic importance not only for Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and Israel, but for the broader security and prosperity of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. If everything goes according to plan and a Cyprus settlement is reached between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots, and if normalization takes place between Turkey and Israel, then big economic projects could follow, such as the transporting of Israeli and Cypriot off-shore gas to Europe via pipelines through Turkey, and the bringing of Turkish fresh water to Cyprus via an already-built pipeline.

May 22 could mark a threshold for both schemes, after which talks may restart.