It began in 1974, after Turkey invaded Cyprus. About 200,000 Christian Cypriots were expelled or forced to leave the northern part of the island, where a new diplomatic entity was established (the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus – TRNC), sponsored by Ankara, recognized by no other country apart from Turkey. The lands and homes of the residents who left were captured by tens of thousands of settlers, encouraged by Turkey.
The property owners began claiming their property. In response, Turkey initiated a sort of regulation law, allowing the property owners to receive compensation. They didn’t settle for what was offered. Some of them, led by Takis Demopoulos, petitioned the European court in 1999, claiming their property. Following discussions of more than a decade, the judges reached a dramatic decision: “There is no precedent in the Court’s case-law to support the proposition that a Contracting State must pursue a blanket policy of restoring property to owners without taking into account the current use or occupation of the property in question.” The judges directed the petitioners to the compensation system established by the Turkish entity, despite the fact that the entity is unrecognized and the compensation is limited.
The ruling is in line with the solution adopted by the international community regarding Cyprus, which included a reunification of the island, while separating between the Turkish entity and the Greek entity. The initiative was launched in 2004 and named after then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The initiative, by the way, limits, and basically denies, the “right of return,” and establishes a complicated system of property issues.
The legal precedent allows the right to argue that the Regulation Bill is enforced by international law, but that’s just part of the story. Because the ruling has another part: It essentially adopts the principle of separating between populations. Many conflicts have created huge waves of population swaps. For example, tens of millions in Europe. Property of enormous value, which cannot be assessed, remained behind. International law usually adopted the international and state decisions against the return of property. The ruling in the Demopoulos case goes in the same direction and is based on the principle of not restoring the situation, both concerning the residents and concerning the property.
There is an Israeli precedent as well: The lands of Kibbutz Lehavot Haviva were owned by an Israeli Arab citizen who claimed his property. The issue was discussed by the Knesset in January 1954. Then-Finance Minister Levi Eshkol spoke about the hypocrisy of the Mapam party, which demanded that Lehavot Haviva return the property while its own kibbutzim were located on Arab lands too. “The farm’s buildings stand on the land of an Arab who lives in Israel. He is claiming the land, and there is no doubt that he should be compensated, but there is also no doubt that the buildings cannot be destroyed,” Eshkol said. “Lehavot Haviva’s members don’t want to leave the land rightfully, justifiably and legally.”
Amona is not Lehavot Haviva, because the communities established after the War of Independence were based on the principle of separating populations. Amona, on the other hand, was established on the opposite principle of mixing populations. The Regulation Bill could be amended so that it is restricted to the settlement blocs, which will remain under Israeli sovereignty even after an agreement or arrangement. That is the direction which was rightfully raised by Lieberman this week.
This is not a dispute between the Left and the Right, it’s a dispute between the Israeli majority and the radical right, which is refusing to settle for the blocs. It wants to adopt the regulation idea and reject the principle it is based on. That’s sort of like constructing a building while skipping its ground floor. That won’t work. the building will collapse.