Cyprus PRESIDENT’S eagerly-anticipated visit to Israel finally took place last weekend culminating in his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu on Monday. Despite the high expectations cultivated by the government and the big significance read into it subsequently, the meeting produced the familiar mix of big words, grand designs and nothing of substance.
The best the government spokesman, Nicos Christodoulides, could come up with afterwards was that two governments planned more contacts to give shape to the ‘strategic dialogue’ on energy that started in Jerusalem between Nik and Netanyahu. So what about all the contacts and co-operation discussions that had been taking place in the last couple of years? They were obviously non-strategic, but what were the two sides talking about?
Whatever it was, Christodoulides said, “we are completely satisfied with the excellent level of our relations, and the political will was expressed to boost these relations further.” As for follow-up developments that would supposedly lead to concrete results, the spokesman felt “we must await, over the coming period, the exchange of visits on a ministerial level, to implement what the leaders have agreed.”
What the leaders had agreed apart from the ‘strategic dialogue’ was not very much. The two sides would explore the possibility of linking their power-grids and selling gas-powered electricity, through submarine cable, to Europe via Greece. Nobody knows if this is viable as the EU feasibility study has yet to be completed, so the ‘strategic dialogue’ may prove a bit pointless.
THE OTHER issue on which there was a decision was to speed up the negotiations for a unitisation agreement regulating the exploitation of cross-border gas in the respective EEZs of the two countries. This refers to our block 12 in which natural gas deposits have been found in a stratum that stretches into Israel’s EEZ and an agreement needs to be reached for exploitation.
The two countries have been negotiating for four years, with Israel refusing to sign an agreement. This despite the fact that it has found no gas in the stratum that is in its own EEZ and has no reason to avoid a deal. There was a similar issue between Cyprus and Egypt but an agreement was reached and signed after a few months of negotiations.
Despite “the excellent level of our relations”, Israel has been refusing to give an inch in what should have been routine negotiations between two friendly countries. It remains to be seen whether the agreement of the two leaders to speed up the negotiations and the specific instruction given by Netanyahu to his energy minister will make any difference.
It is entirely possible that the negotiations will be speeded but then wait for the ‘strategic dialogue’ to take shape in a few years or decades before producing an agreement.
ACCORDING to a government insider, bilateral relations with Israel are very much on a give-and-take-basis – we give and Israel takes. Cyprus has been providing Israel with all types of services and information in exchange for nothing in particular.
Nik’s government is just happy for an Israeli minister to visit the island once in a blue moon, make some vague declarations about co-operation plans that will never be implemented, so it can make people think the country has a powerful strategic ally. Of course there is no alliance because Israel has no interest in it, but the government likes to pretend there is one because it plays well with the public and Nik can boast that he has powerful friends.