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The Cyprus Model? July 19, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Cyprus.
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David Frum argues that the relative stability of a politically-divided Cyprus, half Turkish and half Greek, offers a model for Israel and Palestine:

Despite the fuzzy legal status of the North — despite lingering angry feelings between Greeks and Turks — peace has in fact settled upon Cyprus.

There has been no major violence on the island since the mid-1970s. The economy on both sides of the line has grown handsomely in recent years. Barriers between the two sides — including physical barriers — have begun to open. Greek Cyprus belongs to the European Union and uses the euro; Turkish Cyprus does not. Greek Cyprus has a seat at the UN; Turkish Cyprus does not.

… But if Turkish Cyprus does not have a legal existence as a country, it nonetheless exercises the functions of sovereignty. Turkish Cyprus keeps the peace on its side of the line: It tolerates no terrorist groups and shoots no rockets.

And over time, the two sides have approached closer and closer to mutual acceptance. Younger Cypriots seem increasingly bored by the ancient dispute. … Will the two sides ever ratify a formal peace? Who knows? And how much does it matter?

Frum’s column deserves to be read alongside my colleague Tom Friedman’s piece last week on the slow-but-steady institutional progress being made by Mahmoud Abbas’s quasi-government in the West Bank. Both make a plausible case for what might be called post-peace process optimism: The hope that if Israelis and Palestinians stop investing all of their energy into the dream of a final settlement — what Aaron David Miller provocatively calls “the false religion of Mideast peace” — they might be able to make a kind of organic progress, à la Cyprus, toward a world where a formal peace treaty is almost beside the point.

But to return to yesterday’s point, the Cyprus model depends on a much cleaner separation — indeed, a U.N.-monitored buffer zone — between the warring parties than seems imaginable in the Holy Land at the moment. And this, again, is the case for Israeli disentanglement from its occupied territories: So long as the current intertwinement endures, any incremental progress toward peace, prosperity and stability will remain a hostage to the politics of occupation. Just ask Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority’s impressive prime minister, whose technocratic élan has helped midwife an economic revival in the West Bank — but who still feels the need, as Slate’s Michael Weiss points out, to play the rabble-rouser on the settlement issue:

If Fayyad’s stock has gone down in Israel, it’s because of his emergence as the public face of the settlement-boycott movement in the West Bank—a policy that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls “economic and political warfare” and settlers call “economic terrorism.” Fayyad has attended protests, which now average 40 per week, as well as various “bonfire” ceremonies, where settlement-made goods are incinerated. The Palestinian Authority has said that by the end of the year, all West Bankers employed in settlement industries must find alternative means of income. His most provocative measure so far was organizing the failed attempt to prevent Israel’s entry into the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, because he says it is keeping a single ledger for domestic and settlement accounts. Only the former, he insists, should make it eligible for inclusion.

Israeli admirers say that Fayyad is merely doing what any politician in the region has to do: indulging in the theatrics of “resistance” in order to maintain credibility with the people. Many Palestinians wonder at Fayyad’s true political motives; the settlement-boycott movement began at the grass-roots level and, depending on whom you talk to, the Palestinian Authority has either hijacked it in order to claim credit for the idea or infiltrated it in order to tame its more radical exponents and forestall a worst-case scenario: the outbreak of a third intifada. As one of Fayyad’s own officials recently told The Economist, that dreaded contingency is all too real, particularly beyond the well-patrolled cities of the West Bank.

When a Palestinian leader can govern, and state-build, without looking over his shoulder for an intifada, I’ll believe that Israel and Palestine are on their way to a Cyprus-style detente. Maybe Ariel Sharon may have had a plan to make that possible, but I’m pretty sure the current Israeli leadership doesn’t.

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