How to revive Cyprus talks
Reviving the Cyprus talks, the stillborn baby of half a century ago, is surely a complicated task. Does anyone remember how the talks began back in 1968 at a Beirut hotel? Notwithstanding the notes archived in the Cyprus files of the U.S. State Department or the British Foreign Office, does anyone remember how the target of establishing a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation became one of the established parameters in the Cyprus negotiation jargon?
As long as one of the two parties in Cyprus continues as the “sole legitimate government” of the entire island, there can be no settlement. As long as the Greek Cypriots administer the sole legal government of Cyprus, and as long talks with their Turkish Cypriot counterparts exclude a penalty clause for failure, prospects of reaching any form of settlement based on political equality and power sharing remain an illusion.
The assumption that the two leaders could sit at the negotiating table as “equals” representing their respective communities was a delusion all along. With Greek Cypriot leaders publicly declaring throughout the past half-century of talks that the majority would never succumb to a minority, a federation based on political “equality” could not be reached.
However, the goal of establishing a federation was first suggested by Greek Cypriots in 1975, with the Turkish Cypriot side agreeing to create a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation with political equality on both sides of the island as the ultimate goal. How did the Greek Cypriots make that proposal and why did Turkish Cypriots agree? Did not the idea of replacing the “Cyprus Republic” as an “effective federation” with a “Federal Cyprus Republic” emerge from a series of “bi-communal” workshops outside the island?
The names of the participants of these meetings are unimportant. They assumed that the “effective federation” that collapsed could be replaced with a “bi-zonal and bi-communal” de jure federation and that the island could enter a new era of peace and tranquility. Whether or not it was designed by “foreign” strategists does not matter. Establishing a federal Cyprus was a brilliant idea which unfortunately collapsed. In 2004 and 2017 Greek Cypriots clearly demonstrated their disinterest in a power sharing deal with Turkish Cypriots.
What can be done in the present moment? If talks are to resume after the Jan. 7 Turkish Cypriot parliamentary elections and the Jan. 28 Greek Cypriot presidential polls, what should the target be? Should the goal of establishing a federation, despite the repeated failure of such a goal, remain the main target? Why should Cypriots spend another decade pursuing a target that one side – the Greek Cypriots – hates to accept?
Similar to the 1977-1979 high level agreements that established creating a federation as the target of the talks, a second track diplomacy initiative should be launched, with selected and representative personalities from both sides under the guidance of a respectable and mutually acceptable “European” but “non-official” personality.
The two delegations could come up with constructive ideas, exploring structures that are somewhere in-between a federation and a confederation. This might help Greek Cypriots accept a reduced level of power sharing with the Turkish Cypriots.
With a military base given to Turkey (as tentatively agreed in the last failed exercise), as well as termination of the guarantee system, and a separate security arrangement made with the Turkish state and the confederation, security obsessed Turkish Cypriots and Greco-phobic Turkey might be soothed. Making arrangements for a transition period, and reconsidering the strengthening of powers of the originally very loose confederation, the island could move towards a better and more peaceful future.
Even if it for a divorce, the two sides must talk. No one should entertain the delusion that the time for talking is now over in Cyprus. It is high time the concerned parties considered a new approach. This new process should contain a penalty clause, must not be open-ended and Turkish Cypriots should know from day one what would happen to their status if Greeks walked away and allowed the talks to collapse again.