It’s Sunny in Nicosia—Why Not in Jerusalem?

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It’s Sunny in Nicosia—Why Not in Jerusalem?
by Leon Hadar

August 08, 2011

So you feel worn-out by the never-ending “peace process” involving two ethno-religious communities and their competing claims over a disputed territory.

And you are not surprised to learn that the latest round of peace processing has ground to a halt.

But never give up hope—President Dimitris Christofias of Cyprus is under international pressure to deliver a peace blueprint when he and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu meet UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in October. But ever since UN-sponsored peace talks restarted in September 2008, there has been no evidence of progress. And the “international community” is impatient.

Substitute “Christofias and Eroglu” with “Abbas and Netanyahu,” and you may be forgiven for imagining that you were watching an Arab-Israeli film being dubbed into Greek and Turkish.

Reports about the most recent ups and downs in the negotiations over Cyprus sound familiar to professional peace processors who have been trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for most of their careers. To paraphrase what Mark Twain said about the weather, everyone talks about the dispute over the Holy Land, but nobody is able to do anything about it.

“The reason it is sunnier in Nicosia than in Jerusalem can be summarized in one word: partition.”
But notice the dissimilarities. Every time Bibi and Abu Mazen go on a date, the “international community” is in danger of suffering a diplomatic aneurysm. Yet no one in Washington will be holding their breath when Christofias and Eroglu meet in October.

Moreover, while the cycle of political violence in the Holy Land ensures a regular supply of widows and orphans, most deaths in Cyprus result from natural causes, car accidents, or street violence. Occasionally, the leaders of Turkey and Greece make some noise about Cyprus and the UN urges the two sides to make a deal. But no one seems worried that the failure to reach a peace agreement will trigger a military conflagration.

The fact that Cyprus has not received as much attention as Israel and Palestine may confound the proverbial Man from Mars touring the two tiny tracts of land in the eastern Mediterranean where descendents of old civilizations quarrel over ownership of ancient sites that are part of their national legends.

Once part of the Ottoman Empire and then ruled by the British, both Cyprus and Israel/Palestine have become central to the national mythologies of those who love their historical narratives. Greek Cypriots recently marked the “black anniversary” of the invasion by Turkey on July 20, 1974, which the island’s Turkish inhabitants recall as the Day of Liberation.

Israelis mark their own Independence Day. Palestinians commemorate the Day of Catastrophe.

Most Israelis and Palestinians are not ready to reach a “final status” agreement that would require reconfiguring their respective national and religious narratives. Palestinians will not give up the “right of return” and accept the idea of a Jewish state or agree to share Muslim control of Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount) with the Jews. And no Israeli-Jewish leader that subscribes to Zionism, the state’s founding ideology, will budge on Jewish statehood or sharing the Temple Mount.

The reason it is sunnier in Nicosia than in Jerusalem can be summarized in one word: partition. Cyprus’s de facto partition seems to serve all parties’ interests. Cypriot Greeks have de jure sovereignty over the entire island that was accepted into the European Union as a full member in 2004. The Turks maintain self-rule and close ties to Turkey’s thriving economy. The Greeks and/or Turks rejected various plans to settle the Cyprus dispute, and no one expects any change in the current status quo anytime soon.

Indeed, separating the Israelis and the Palestinians—even without a final status solution—could help create the environment for Cyprus-like coexistence in the Holy Land. It would require an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians to a partition along the 1967 cease-fire lines. It would require land swaps under which Israel will be allowed to annex some Palestinian areas with large Jewish settlements in exchange for Israeli territory with large Arab populations. Jerusalem’s Arab and Jewish residential and commercial areas will also be partitioned, and the religious sites will come under the UN’s control.

The arrangement would fall short of Arab and Muslim aspirations for the complete return of Arab and Muslim Palestine into the Ummah’s fold, and it likely won’t correspond to the Israeli vision of peace. But it will allow both Israelis and Palestinians to invest their energy and resources on nation-building instead of exchanging bombs and missiles. And it could lessen the international preoccupation with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

My advice: Israelis and Palestinians should get a divorce ASAP. And they won’t even have to hire a pricy lawyer.


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