JERUSALEM (May. 23)
Although EI Arish will be formally returned to Egyptian rule on Friday, there will be no open borders between Israel and Egypt for another eight months unless Premier Menachem Begin and President Anwar Sadat decide otherwise at their summit meetings in EI Arish Sunday. This was made clear in statements by the Egyptian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Boutros Ghali and Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan following their meeting in EI Arish yesterday.
Ghali told reporters that the borders would be opened in accordance with the schedule laid down in the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. The treaty stipulated nine months from the date of its ratification which occurred a month ago. Dayan confirmed this but observed that open borders could be proclaimed earlier if Begin and Sadat agreed. His meeting with Ghali was to try to resolve the various civilian problems that remained unsettled with respect to the transfer of EI Arish to Egyptian sovereignty.
Dayan explained that if the borders are not immediately opened, no Israeli fishing craft would be permitted in Egyptian territorial waters; notably the Bardawill Lagoon at EI Arish and no Egyptian fishing boats could operate in the waters off the Gaza Strip. EI Arish residents will not be able to go to their jobs in Israel or in the Israel-held portions of northern Sinai. EI Arish farmers will not be allowed to tend their fields on the Israeli side of the demarcation line and the settlers of Neot Sinai will be barred from their vegetable fields on the Egyptian side.
Attention has been focused on Neot Sinai where the settlers have defied Military Government orders to evacuate the fields. Joined by hundreds of supporters including Gush Emunim militants and leaders of movements opposed to the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, they pelted Defense Minister Ezer Weizman with vegetables, tin cans and other missiles when he pleaded with them yesterday to leave the fields peaceably.
Weizman explained that, like it or not, the arrangements with Egypt were approved by the Knesset in a democratic manner. “I very much recommend, suggest, and ask that you accept the verdict of the majority,” Weizman said.
He spoke in vain, however, and went directly to EI Arish to join Dayan and Ghali at their meeting. If Weizman hoped to gain a concession from the Egyptian official on the Neet Sinai issue, he was disappointed. Ghali told him that what has been agreed to between Israel and Egypt cannot be changed two days before the area is transferred. He said Egypt has enough trouble arising from its treaty with Israel and does not want to add a new one.
TENSION IN NEOT SINAI
The Neot Sinai settlers suffered another setback yesterday when the Supreme Court threw out their appeal against the Military Government’s orders. Justice Meir Shamgar, speaking for the three-man panel, said the local Military Governor acted within his authority when he ordered the vegetable fields closed. He said the fact that the settlers entered the fields before the orders were issued made no difference.
The settlers had contended in their appeal that the Military Governor’s orders did not specifically enjoin them from remaining in the fields but spoke only of entering them.
Meanwhile, Israeli troops surrounded the area apparently awaiting orders to remove the settlers by force if necessary. The possibility of a dramatic confrontation drew scores of local and foreign journalists, photographers and television cameras to the scene. Backing the settlers were Herut MKs Geula Cohen and Moshe Shamir, Tel Aviv University physicist Prof. Yuval Neeman who heads a new movement aimed at nullifying the treaty with Egypt, and Hanan Parat, leader of the Gush Emunim. They managed to slip through army roadblocks yesterday.
But a convoy of militants from Kiryat Arba, the Orthodox town near Hebron, was stopped. The Kiryat Arba group retaliated by blocking the Gaza-Ashkelon main road for several hours. The reinforcements brought sleeping bags, water and food while the Neot Sinai settlers fortified themselves with tractors, barbed wire and steel pipes.
PREPARATIONS FOR SUMMIT CONTINUE
Despite the drama in the vegetable patch, preparations continued in EI Arish for the transfer ceremonies Friday and the Begin-Sadat summit meeting Sunday. Hatzerim airfield, a military base, was readied to receive giant American and Egyptian Boeing transports that will bring U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance Egyptian Premier Mustapha Khalil to EI Arish Friday. They will proceed from there to Beersheba for the formal opening of the Israeli-Egyptian negotiations on Palestinian autonomy.
On Sunday, both Begin and Sadat will land at Hatzerim from where they will fly to Beersheba in a symbolic inauguration of an air corridor between Israel and Egypt. Returning to EI Arish, Begin will address a pothering of Israeli and Egyptian war wounded at a local movie house, the only public hall in the town.
In El Arish, meanwhile, Israeli and Egyptian soldiers fraternized and even played a soccer game which ended in a 3-3 draw. But relations were becoming less cordial between EI Arish and Israeli civilians. The manager of an Israeli Laundromat was chided by a former employee who demanded to know, “What are you still doing here? This town no longer belongs to you.”