TEL AVIV (Jan. 27)
Israeli and Egyptian diplomats and officials gathered at the Desert Inn Hotel in Beersheba today to start three days of negotiations on the future of Taba, a 750-yard area on the Gulf of Aqaba at the northeastern tip of the Sinai, less than a mile south of Eilat. The area is claimed by both Egypt and Israel, and its uncertainty has helped sour relations between both countries.
The dispute concerns the exact line of the border, with the Egyptians claiming that a luxury hotel and beach resort built there occupy land which belongs to Egypt, and Israel claiming that the disputed area is on the Israeli side of the international border.
The opening meeting today was brief and was devoted mainly to procedural matters. The next meeting is to be held tomorrow. The Israeli delegation is headed by Zvi Keddar, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Middle East division.
The Egyptians are united in their claim on Taba and want the issue to go immediately to arbitration. Israelis in Egypt say that many Egyptians are under the impression that the disputed area consists of hundreds of square miles.
ISRAELIS ARE DIVIDED ON THE ISSUE
Israeli leaders, including Cabinet ministers, are more divided on the issue, with Labor Party members more in favor of compromise in order to get Egypt to fully observe the peace treaty with the return of the Egyptian Ambassador to Israel — which Cairo says cannot happen while Taba is in dispute.
Israeli leaders contend that the peace treaty with Egypt calls first for negotiations and then for conciliation attempts on this issue before arbitration. They say the first two steps have not yet been exhausted.
The Egyptian chief delegate, Abdul Halim El-Badawi, said on his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport en route to Beersheba this morning that “we have come to start a new round of talks on the implementation of the April 25 (1982) agreement between the two governments. We do believe that all problems can be solved and overcome. We have come here with an open mind and shall apply that open mind to all problems. I am looking forward to the success of those talks, and I hope our good will shall be reciprocated.”
The 1982 agreement stipulated that only Israeli police and border police, without army troops, should maintain security in Taba. Troops of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), the international Sinai observation force, were slated to have taken over responsibility for security pending a settlement.
But the MFO has never entered the area, as Israel and Egypt could not reach a common definition of “security” in this case.
Keddar said that during the negotiations on Taba, he would raise other issues, including the search for the bodies of Israel Defense Force soldiers still not found in the Sinai desert, and the continued sea searches for traces of the IDF submarine Dakar which disappeared at sea without a trace many years ago on its delivery journey from Britain.