IT WAS almost a foregone conclusion that the Greek and Turkish sides would not agree to a Cyprus settlement in the Swiss Alps, but this should not be taken as a sign that the submitted agreement is no good.
Messrs Karamanlis and Erdogan simply had no reason to take the political risk of assuming the authorship of a settlement both knew would involve compromises. Cyprus has become a national issue for both sides and Greek and Turkish rhetoric has created expectations impossible to deflate without cost.
It was therefore much easier to allow Kofi Annan to act as arbiter and submit a plan directly to the peoples of Cyprus, whose possible rejection will not also pull down a government.
The so-called fifth Annan plan was made public on April 1, and in the brief time that was available to study it before this edition went to press, it appears to have enough positive points for both sides to merit a yes vote.
Fundamentally, it honours existing UN Security Council Resolutions ordering the removal of Turkish armed forces. Greece and Turkey may maintain forces of 6,000 a side until 2011 (Turkey currently has an estimated 30,000 troops on the island). The number then falls to 3,000 troops a side until 2018, when Greece and Turkey will be limited to the symbolic forces foreseen in Cyprus' 1960 Treaty of Independence, namely 650 Turks and 950 Greeks.
Equally fundamentally, there appear to be no permanent derogations from European Union freedoms of movement, settlement, and property ownership. There is a moratorium on immigration by Greek and Turkish Cypriots to the opposite side for five years. From the sixth to the ninth year after the agreement comes into force, they may form minorities of up to 6 percent, from the tenth to the fourteenth year minorities of up to 12 percent, and of up to 18 percent until the nineteenth year. Thereafter, intra-Cypriot immigration should be unrestricted, in conformity with EU law.
(Cyprus breaks the spell of this schedule and graduates to full freedom of settlement immediately upon the entry of Turkey into the EU, should this happen sooner than the nineteenth year of the agreement).
The Greek-Cypriot side is satisfied on certain key points:
* In its last form, the Annan plan limited continual Greek-Cypriot residence in the Turkish-Cypriot component state to three nights. That now becomes five months.
* Greek-Cypriots may all buy a second home in the north.
* For a period of 19 years after the entry into force of the agreement, Greek and Turkish nationals are limited to 5 percent of the population of the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot state respectively. The Greek-Cypriot side had requested this restriction to prevent a continuation of the Turkish policy over the past 30 years of transfusing mainland Turkish settlers in an effort to boost numbers. This, Greek-Cypriots feared, would lead to a secession of the north of the island to Turkey.
* The last Annan plan foresaw a transitional period of three years in which Rauf Denktash and Tassos Papadopoulos would be co-presidents. That has now been abolished, in view of the fact that Denktash may be relied upon to do everything in his power to derail a settlement.
* There is a territorial adjustment in favour of the Greek-Cypriot component state.
* Compensation bonds for homes lost by Greek-Cypriots in the 1974 Turkish invasion are exchangeable as currency or may be used to purchase new homes.
* The Greek-Cypriots will be compensated at current property values, not 1960 values as Denktash had requested. If the value of their property has declined through neglect (as many have), they may even apply for the difference.
Nonetheless, the Greek-Cypriots express unhappiness on a few points:
* Minority residents in each component state will not be able to elect the officials who govern them, only officials of the state from which they hail. It is as though an Alaskan moving to Utah remains registered to vote in Alaska. Greek Cypriots complain that democratic rights are usually defined geographically, whereas here the definition will be ethnic and will discourage social bonding.
* The Greek-Cypriots remain concerned about the workability of the Presidential Council, the main federal executive authority, in which an even number of voting members (six) must agree. They had suggested nine.
* There will be no further recourse to the European Court of Human Rights for property disputes. Greek-Cypriots have filed thousands of lawsuits since Titina Loizidou won her complaint against Turkey in 1996, which was ordered to pay her handsomely for the loss of her property. Most if not all of these cases would also result in convictions for Turkey. If the agreement is voted in, the European Court of Human Rights must "strike out any proceedings currently before it" (Regulation of Exercise of Property Rights, Article 5, Paragraph 2), and Greek-Cypriots will have to resolve property claims through a Property Board.
* Greek-Cypriots complain that they will essentially foot the bill for their own compensation since the funds will come from the federal budget to which they are the main contributors. They do not place much faith in a scheduled international donors' conference on April 15.
Overall, however, Kofi Annan seems to be right in his closing remarks: This is as fair a plan as the Cypriots are ever likely to see. The reactions from each side fit political realities rather than the substance of the plan.
Turkey has been upbeat about the plan, consistent with its need to win a battle of impressions. It has been the naysayer on a Cyprus settlement under UN auspices, a position that would ensure negative marks when its European Union candidacy is re-assessed in December. That policy was therefore a dead end, and Buergenstock was its tombstone.
Greece has so far supported the UN process and gained the upper hand diplomatically by internationalising the Cyprus issue. This policy reached its apogee with the entry of Cyprus into the European Union. Ultimately, EU membership paid off, because adherence to fundamental EU freedoms of movement, settlement and property ownership was achieved this way. Were it not for its EU orientation, Turkey would have sued for a perennially bracketed, exclusive Turkish-Cypriot state, and the US would likely have continued to back this. Greece therefore won its main concessions years before Buergenstock, and had little to gain there.
It is now a question of whether the parties on Cyprus will have the guts to back the plan, essentially good one, to the Cypriots.
Turkish-Cypriots have everything to gain - EU citizenship, a flood of structural funds and a return of investor interest, absent for 30 years. Denktash's attempts to awaken insecurity should fall flat with 19-year transition periods built into the plan.
Greek-Cypriots have more to lose morally and materially, and this is what will govern their concern about the plan.
Materially, Greek-Cypriots have prospered with stable government. Essentially, they face the same dilemma as Israel - whether to opt to keep a small, ethnically pure state or a large, mixed one working on a basis of intercommunal trust and common interests. So far, the first model has been disastrous for Israel and deleterious to the soul of Cypriots, if not their pocket.
Perhaps the strongest objections, however, are moral. Greek-Cypriots do not want to legalise the occupation. Many cherish a secret desire to scuttle Turkey's restitution in the eyes of the international community and jinx its chances with the European Union. Cyprus, for so long under Turkey's thumb, now has power to bite back.
That would be a mistake, because it ultimately assumes that Cyprus can be made whole again by force. Cyprus may have won international respect through its vindication in the UN Security Council and European Court of Human Rights. But these are paper victories to Turkey's possession of one third of the island and nine tenths of the law - something not even Cyprus' economic miracle and EU entry could ever reverse. There is not the international political will to force Turkey out. Waiting for such a major shift in the geopolitical balance may be a question of another hundred years, and nothing has been called an 'occupation' for that long.
The best possible alternative to the Annan plan is therefore the status quo, assuming that is what remains, which Greek-Cypriots know they dislike. Jack Straw has tried to imply that a Greek-Cypriot rejection of the plan would mark the end of its de jure claim to the whole island - effectively a recognised partition into two states. That foul scenario is unlikely while Straw draws breath, since his country still recognises the UN. But one should never underestimate the power of inertia, and the fear of political risk.