ISRAELI Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit of a few hours received extensive coverage in all the local media which read great significance into his talks with President Anastasiades about energy and closer security co-operation. There were also reports about Anastasiades’ initiative to help the Middle East peace process by brokering a dialogue of Israel and the Palestinians with the European Council, the president of which, Donald Tusk would be visiting Cyprus in September.
While the strengthening of Cyprus’ relations with Israel is a good thing, there has been a tendency by politicians and journalists to overplay its importance. In fact many politicians have been calling for the building of strategic alliances with Israel for years now, arguing that this would strengthen the hand of Cyprus and also help it secure the help of the powerful Jewish lobby in the US. There is much more wishful thinking than hard-nosed realism in this line of argument, as events have shown.
The truth is that the meetings between Anastasiades and Netanyahu, whom the Cyprus president now addresses as “dear friend Bibi”, have produced nothing of practical value, only words. All we hear is about the intention of the two sides to co-operate on energy issues without anything practical, such as the signing of an agreement, ever taking place. It was exactly the same during Anastasiades’ visit to Jerusalem last month – a lot of words but nothing tangible. In fact at the Jerusalem meeting, Netanyahu reportedly was keen to take practical steps on energy collaboration and was quoted as saying “let’s create facts.”
But we are still waiting for facts to be created, and after the Nicosia meeting it was announced that the two sides were exploring “various options on collaboration”. The two countries have still to reach an unitisation agreement regulating the exploitation of cross-border natural gas in their respective EEZs, after four years of negotiations. Cyprus reached such an agreement with Egypt in a few months. It is therefore a bit difficult to believe very much would come out of these meetings despite the ongoing exchange of visits.
Cyprus’ defence minister is scheduled to visit Israel in a few days for talks on security issues, but it remains to be seen whether these would lead to anything concrete. The reality is that the two sides have been producing a lot of words but have failed, so far, to “create facts”. On the plus side, developing friendly relations with neighbouring countries is good even if these relations do not lead anywhere in practical terms.