Unilateralism from some stakeholders in the Eastern Mediterranean is stalling genuine efforts to find a resolution to the dispute.
The international community has long failed to resolve the Eastern Mediterranean dispute. There were so many missed opportunities that the disagreements are a major hindrance for the region’s development. Fortunately, though, a new regional concord took place between Libya and Turkey that can help to move the issue forward. The latter has agreed to limit their maritime jurisdictions in compliance with international law.
Such a development has the potential to boost the chance for a negotiated solution in the Eastern Mediterranean, as some regional actors, such as Greece, Greek Cyprus, and Egypt, will recognise that it is better to negotiate a new regional partnership that includes all actors, rather than trying to isolate Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and prevent them from their legitimate rights in accessing their share of the region’s wealth.
In spite of Turkey’s willingness to engage in dialogue and find a political settlement, the statements emanating from Greek and Egyptian diplomats are not encouraging. The latter parties tend to fuel the conflict instead of creating the conditions necessary for a peaceful long-term solution. For instance, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias stated that the Turkey-Libya agreement “ignores something that is blatantly obvious, which is that between those two countries, there is the largest geographical landmass of Crete.” In a similar vein, Egypt’s official statement reiterated Dendias’s statement describing the signing of the Turkey-Libya accord as “illegal”. These statements have shock value but bring nothing positive to the table, do not help in finding a resolution, and will not result in regional prosperity. It must be clear to all that a negotiated solution is the only way out in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Even so, the international community does not seem to be actively seeking the formation of a common platform for cooperation. Statements coming out of the EU and from US officials are detached from reality. It must be clear by now that Turkey’s geopolitical significance is too important to be ignored and any attempt to isolate or bypass Ankara will only be counterproductive. Unfortunately, international tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean are becoming chronic. However, there is still a chance for a solution if global powers and regional actors show the necessary goodwill to develop an inclusive political consensus.
On the other hand, unbridled greed for wealth and power seems to dictate actions, as there are trillions of cubic meters of natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean at stake. Therefore, Greece, Greek Cypriots, Egypt and Israel have started to exploit the discovered resources by signing deals with international energy giants. Acting unilaterally, and in disregard of international law, these countries sought to monopolise the energy wealth and sought to exclude other legitimate claims like Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. These one-sided steps in a disputed zone endanger international and regional stability.
In this context, the agreement between Libya and Turkey is a significant model in settling conflicts and leaving the doors open to negotiating disputes with other countries in the region. Finding a settlement is still a distant prospect without the involvement of all stakeholders, and the international community and regional countries have a long way to go before understanding the realities.
It is clear, though, that Turkey has become an important ‘pan-regional energy hub’ through TANAP project. It is a reliable indicator of how beneficial Turkey can be as an efficient route to European markets. In addition, the isolation of Turkey in the energy sector will considerably limit the exploitation of gas resources in the Levant Basin.
It is time for the United States, the European Union, and other major players to be pragmatic and seek to achieve a win-win situation for all parties. Failure to do so will be detrimental to all, not least to the international energy giants keen to make substantial gains out of this region.