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Israel, Egypt Sign Interim Accord on Border Dispute in Taba Region

Israel and Egypt, actively assisted by the United States, signed an interim agreement today to resolve their border dispute in the Taba region near Eilat. The issue will be submitted to “conciliation …. or arbitration” as provided for under Article 7 of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. The U.S. will join Israel and Egypt in talks to decide precisely how that dispute resolution process will be applied.

Premier Menachem Begin strongly supported the interim agreement at last Sunday’s Cabinet session and had high praise for the American role both in this instance and throughout the peace process itself, which he said had been beneficial for Israel.

Begin won the support of the Cabinet majority against strenuous opposition from Defense Minister Ariel Sharon who objected because the interim agreement established a precedent for an American role in negotiating other border disputes with Egypt.

Begin insisted there was no reason for Israel to reject or fear the proposed American participation in the negotiations. Israeli officials expressed warm appreciation for the part played by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Walter Stoessel Jr., who spent nearly two weeks in the region and apparently succeeded in allaying Israeli and Egyptian fears and suspicions that had been blocking agreement on how to settle the Taba issue.

BOTH SIDES MADE POINTS

Both sides won points. Israel’s most important achievement was a clause in the interim agreement stipulating that “activities which have been conducted” in the disputed area until now may be continued pending conciliation or arbitration. That means that the large hotel and resort complex under construction on the Taba beach can be completed.

The Egyptians won a clause forbidding any “new” construction at Taba. Israeli sources said the Egyptians apparently feared that anti-withdral die-hards might infiltrate the Taba region during the interim or any of the 14 other points along the international boundary still disputed. Taba itself is an area of only a few kilometers and the other disputed territories are even smaller.

Another Israeli gain under the interim agreement was the omission of any target date for completion of the conciliation or arbitration process. Egypt had argued strenuously for a deadline, apparently fearing foot-dragging by Israel. But the Israelis felt a target date would create new friction. Israel is also said to prefer conciliation to arbitration. The former is not binding on the parties where as a ruling by an arbitrator is.

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