There is a depressing familiarity to the Cyprus peace talks which have just broken up in Geneva. The proposals, issues and arguments are extremely similar to those which featured in the rejected Annan plan in 2004, and before that in talks I helped broker between Denktash and Clerides in 1994.
I was head of the FCO’s Cyprus Section from 1992-4 when we made a concerted effort to achieve a resolution, based on the fact that both Greek and Turkish Cypriots had leaders of commanding authority, who had as young men been partners in a law firm together. As usual, I attempted to use very personal diplomacy to convince the parties of my own sincerity. This caused one of my more threatening FCO career hiccoughs when I had a private, long and enjoyable lunch with Rauf Denktash. Denktash afterwards gave an enthusiastic report of it to a close confidante, who happened also to be an MI6 agent. MI6 issued an intelligence report based on this agent’s account, including that I had stated that our Ambassador to Cyprus, David Dain, was much too close to the Greek Cypriots and his positions were not always the reflection of the view in London. There were also some unflattering comments on Dain’s personal vanity.
I had not actually made the remark straight out about Dain’s view not reflecting London, though Denktash had probably picked up my sub-text correctly. I am sorry to say the more personal remark was probably accurate. You see, Denktash hated Dain with a passion, and to have responded to that with a straight defence would not have helped persuade Denktash to trust me. Plus I was in fact truthful about London perception. What was not helpful was for MI6 to include these remarks in their report. They did so because MI6 did not actually want us to achieve a peace settlement on Cyprus. It is the old Imperial divide and rule. A united Cyprus would very soon start demanding the return of the British sovereign base areas. So there you are – I was undermining David Dain and MI6 were undermining me. Welcome to how the British government really works – and those of you who have read Sikunder Burnes already will precisely recognise the syndrome.
But on the substance, the outlines of the settlement were very similar to those currently being discussed. A federal system, with specific provisions for rotation of executive posts, and a land division giving the Turkish region approximately 29%. I was personally troubled by the idea of any ethnic provisions in the constitution – reserving or rotating specified posts according to ethnicity seemed to me wrong then, and still does now. But it was put to me strongly that these were the established understandings on which a settlement might be reached, so that was the basis of the Denktash/Clerides talks in 1994, and of the Annan plan a decade later. To me, its fundamental flaw was a failure to permit free movement for all Cypriots throughout the island. For North and South Cyprus to be separate states inside a national federation seems to me reasonable, and revolving executive positions between North and South Cypriots is also reasonable, but not if people are defined ethnically rather than by place of residence, and not if there are ethnic settlement restrictions internally. I believe these proposals still exist in the current negotiations.
However I was just a facilitator and I am not a Cypriot, so I tried, over 20 years ago, to help broker an agreement including ethnic provisions which I personally disliked. The biggest practical difficulty was agreeing the territorial division – while around 29% was not hard to settle, precisely which areas was. The major problem was the extremely strong political influence of the Morphou community among Greek Cypriots. The Turkish side was willing to give up the Karpass Peninsula. This made much sense – in Greek Cyprus, every centimetre of shore is covered in cement and every grain of sand with a sunbed. The Karpass has miles of the most beautiful and undeveloped beaches on the island. By comparison, Morphou has famous orange groves. These have much less commercial value but a hold on the psyche you probably have to be a Greek Cypriot to understand. To give up Karpass leaves Turkish Cyprus integral. To give up Morphou splits it in two. Plus there was then a surviving Greek Cypriot community in Rizokarpass. If I could have persuaded Clerides to give up Morphou for Karpass, I think we could have made great ground in 1994.
We failed because both Greek and Turkish Cypriots were less interested in actually reaching an agreement than in asserting their victimhood. The truth of the matter is that it is both pointless and difficult to ascribe blame to the two communities. You could choose any starting point in a thousand years. Many original Cypriots naturally changed religion and ethnicity according to their masters at the time. The island’s history of both civilisation and conflict is truly fascinating. In the modern conflict, the attempt by Greece to annex Cyprus as the first act of a military dictatorship was very wrong. The wave of ethnic cleansing and atrocity following the subsequent Turkish invasion was also very wrong. Turkey’s deliberate and aggressive importation of settlers to change the population balance was wrong. But we are where we are. Greek fury that the world does not accept their simplistic story of Turkish invasion and persecution lay behind the Greek rejection of the Annan scheme in the 2004 referendum. For the EU to admit Cyprus to membership before a settlement was reached was a massive mistake.
There should be much more protest at the fact that, in 2016, Britain still maintains ownership of large parts of the territory of Cyprus and bases substantial military forces in occupation there. This is straightforward Imperialist aggression. Britain uses Cyprus purely in order to interfere militarily in the Middle East, which a large majority of people now realise is not in the interest of the ordinary British population. By giving up its Cypriot territory, Britain could contribute very substantially to breaking the impasse in negotiations.
So here we are again, another decade on and another peace process. My experience of Cyprus was a massive help to me in understanding the Balkans, where the underlying issues are precisely the same. But I also see an interesting parallel with Palestine.
Rather than two state entities, the international community has always insisted that Cyprus must remain a single state, but one which will have a federal structure with provisions for sharing and rotating executive power between communities. While Turkish mass importation of settlers might have been illegal, talks have proceeded on the basis that people are where they are and reverse ethnic cleansing is not the solution.
For me, these principles should also apply to Palestine. There are not two viable states in Israel/Palestine, the land of the Palestinian authority having been split into a few tiny and isolated Bantustans. What is needed is a unitary state of Palestine incorporating all the land of Israel/Palestine, with Federal states within it, and power sharing and rotation arrangements. The principle that people are where they are should apply to the bulk of illegal settlers in Palestine as in Cyprus. Compensation arrangements should be very important; reverse ethnic cleansing on any large scale should be shunned. A deal on Cyprus has been stalled for fifty years, but at least people are talking. It is time for Israelis and Palestinians to start a conversation too, and for the international community to acknowledge that the “two state solution” was only ever a sham, a cover for the slow but very sure Palestinian genocide we are witnessing.
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