FOR YEARS the two sides thrived on antagonising each other with tough public statements about the Cyprus talks. It was a game which the late Rauf Denktash played extremely well as he knew how to provoke an angry reaction from the Greek Cypriot media and politicians who, in turn, would hit back from the high moral ground they believed they occupied. These ultimately pointless exchanges were intended for domestic consumption but became an integral part of political life, offering some much-needed drama.
It remains a big part of political life today. Greek Cypriot parties issue announcements almost every day censuring Turkish intransigence and Ankara’s maximalist claims while politicians trade in defiance. It is not very different in the north with Turkish Cypriot politicians lashing out at the Cyprus government’s unilateral decisions that ignore their existence and are aimed at keeping them isolated. These are just a few examples of the rich repertory of accusations and counter-accusations.
In the last six or seven years, with on-off talks, these exchanges have taken the form of public negotiations, with each side stating its respective red lines and declaring it would never accept one thing or the other. Two weeks ago, we were hearing the row about Turkish guarantees, which Greek Cypriots declared they would never accept and Turkish Cypriots insisting they would never agree to a deal without them.
Once that exchange was over, inconclusively, Morphou has now taken centre stage, after DISY leader, Averof Neophytou, said in an interview published on Sunday that he could not support a settlement that did not provide for the return of Morphou. In response the ‘foreign ministry’ in the north issued a statement, stressing there was no chance of Morphou being returned after the big investment in the development of the area. It also ruled out the scrapping of Turkish guarantees which Neophytou set as a red line in his interview.
Does this debate serve any useful purpose? No, all it achieves is to put the two leaders under unnecessary pressure, needlessly ups the ante, fuels pessimism and poisons the climate. Do the leaders need this, a few days before they are set to start the intensive round of talks? Admittedly, on the issue of guarantees both leaders dug their heels in, setting a bad example by showing that they are not above engaging in public negotiations.
They do not seem to understand that public negotiations with the setting of red lines help those on both sides that are opposed to a settlement. The hard-line ‘government’ in the north, over which Mustafa Akinci has very little, if any, control seized Neophytou’s comments to put pressure on Akinci; similarly the Greek Cypriot opposition parties used Akinci’s comments regarding guarantees to attack the government.
It is the enemies of a settlement who gain from public negotiations and setting of red lines because they are allowed to create the impression that there could be a settlement without their respective side making compromises on the big issues. And when these compromises are made, they will be able to claim that the settlement is unfair or unjust.