JERUSALEM (Mar. 22)
A high ranking Egyptian envoy arrived in Israel this evening with a message from President Hosni Mubarak to Premier Menachem Begin. Osama el-Baz, the Egyptian leader’s political aide who is also a senior official in Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, is to meet with Begin and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir tomorrow morning.
Observers here believe his visit concems the dispute between the two countries over the Taba beach, south of Eilat, where a border disagreement remains unresolved. There was also speculation that el-Baz’s mission would deal with the proposed visit to Israel of Mubarak, originally scheduled for March but now hanging fire because of a row over Mubarak’s refusal to visit Jerusalem and Begin’s insistence that he do so.
The quarrel was exacerbated over the weekend by Egypt’s postponement of an autonomy working group meeting due to have convened in Jerusalem yesterday. Egyptian officials cited Israel’s insistence that the session take place in Jerusalem as the reason for their move.
These developments have created something of a crisis atmosphere in relations between Egypt and Israel which are already tense a month before Israel’s final withdrawal from Sinai.
Shamir sought to ease the tension today. Speaking to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, he said the Taba dispute was a difference of opinion and that any talk of a “crisis” was out of place. Israel, he said, would certainly agree that the issue be resolved “in accordance with the peace treaty.”
Observers pointed out that the peace treaty calls for “conciliation” or “arbitration” in the event that the two sides fail to reach a negotiated resolution of a dispute.
The Cabinet yesterday endorsed an interim proposal made by Begin to Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali here last week whereby the Taba area would be part of the buffer zone, with an Israeli hotel there continuing to operate without restriction while the question of sovereignty is dealt with in further negotiations, or if they fail, presumably through “conciliation or arbitration.”
Defense Minister Ariel Sharon in a speech in Haifa last night, insisted that Israel would make no further concessions on Taba. (See related story.).
Sources close to Begin dissociated themselves from statements attributed to Sharon that Israel would refuse to complete the Sinai withdrawal unless the Taba issue is satisfactorily resolved. The sources said they preferred not to adopt threatening or ultimative tones.