Turkey’s Settlements, the ICC, and European Vacation-makers

In a press conference recently, Mahmoud Abbas threatened to use Palestine’s G.A.-recognized “state” status to challenge Israel’s settlements in the International Criminal Court. He picked a most unlikely venue for the presser – Ankara, in a joint conference with the the Turkish president. The absurdity of this is that Turkey continues to occupy northern Cyprus, and is responsible for a massive settlement program there.

I’ve written before about “other countries’ settlements,” but one might think that an increasing discussion of Israel’s civilian communities in prosecutorial terms would increase the discusion of other (often more blatant) violations of the same international norm. Not quite.

Cyprus was a state with clear borders when Turkey invaded in 1974, and is a charter member of the ICC. If anyone should be loosing sleep over settlements suits in the ICC, it would be Turkey. Interestingly, no one has suggested in the past decade that Cyprus’s ICC membership would scare the Turks out of N. Cyprus, or get the Turks to agree to a peace deal). But a referral by Cyprus would not face the various thorny temporality and territoriality issues of a Palestinian complaint. Moreover, Cyprus is a particularly gross case of changing the demographics of occupied territory through settlement, with settlers now outnumbering protected persons n the territory.

Apart from the manifest hypocrisy, what should be disappointing for believers in international humanitarian law is the failure of anyone to call Abbas (or Erdogan) on it. I am not aware of any news, NGO, or governmental response pointing out the unseemliness of Abbas invoking the ICC from Ankara.

But it turns out that Europeans have for the past decade taken a different kind of interest in the Turkish occupation, as Dore Gold reports. Priced out of the French Riviera and Amalfi coast, Europeans wanting to buy a Mediterranean vacation property increasingly flock to Turkish-occupied Cyprus.

Gold observes:

European governments have warned their citizens that former Greek residents of Northern Cyprus may initiate legal proceedings in European courts against those who take over their properties. But there is no objection being stated in principle against European citizens moving into these territories in order to build vacation homes.

But the European foreign ministries cannot have it both ways: they cannot condemn Israelis who build homes in the West Bank for violating international law, while they approve, in principle, or are at least silent about Turkish settlers and their European business partners who benefit from the lands Turkish Cypriots have taken over, as they develop what has been one of the hottest Mediterranean real estate markets for Europeans seeking a place in the sun.

Discussions of a potential ICC referral often focus on potential liability by Palestinians as a factor that would dissuade them (or the Court) from proceeding. But Israel’s best bet for heading off such a suit would be to advertise the implications for other non-member states that would clearly be on the settlement hook: Turkey and Russia.

For the record, I think it quite unlikely that the ICC will indict Israeli leaders over settlements, but I’d bet the farm it wouldn’t indict Israel and Turkish leaders in this decade. Indeed, if I were the Israeli government, I’d spend less time preparing an ICC defense that working up a Cypriot case against Turkey, as a favor to its new bestie.

By the way, the Europeans who are “settling” N. Cyprus do not themselves violate the Geneva Conventions, because i) only the “occupying power” can violate it, and ii) it only prohibits “transfer” of “nationals of the occupying power.” Assuming the Europeans are not Turkish citizens, they can’t be settlers. Similarly, American Jews who move to, say East Jerusalem as American citizens cannot be said to be “settlers,” though popular usage may vary.

ADDENDUM: Because Cyprus is an ICC member, ANY member state can refer the situation of Turkish settlements to the ICC (or the prosecutor could begin an investigation on his own motion, which would be more exceptional). It does not have to be Cyprus – they’ve already consented to jurisdiction by signing the treaty. Given the great odium the international community attaches to settlement, it is interesting that there has not even by serious discussion of a such a referral.

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