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Dispute over Resolving Taba Crisis Deepens Split Between Likud, Labor

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The eight month-old Labor-Likud national unity coalition government may have moved a step closer to dissolution today after Premier Shimon Peres and Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, the Likud leader, failed to agree on how Israel should resolve its border dispute with Egypt over the Taba region.

The two men met privately and agreed to meet again on the matter in a few days. The crux of their dispute is whether Israel should accede to Egypt’s insistence that the Taba issue be settled by international arbitration– a course now favored by Peres–or whether conciliation should be tried first, as urged by Shamir.

Peres believes that by acquiescing to Egypt’s wishes on Taba, the way will be cleared to resolving all outstanding bilateral issues between the two countries including normalization of relations and the return of Egypt’s Ambassador to Tel Aviv.

Shamir and his Likud colleagues see Peres’ approach as a retreat and “sellout” by Israel. Article 7 of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty provides for conciliation and arbitration to settle disputes that cannot be resolved by negotiations. Likud’s view is that arbitration is a last resort if conciliation fails. Labor interprets Article 7 as allowing the parties to choose one or the other method.

Sources close to Peres said he had “not threatened” but had “made clear to Mr. Shamir the seriousness with which he viewed the matter.” The sources said he stressed to Shamir that if there was no progress on Taba, the government would in effect be “paralyzed in terms of foreign policy” and that he (Peres) “would not countenance” a paralyzed government.

LABOR NO LONGER MUTES CRITICISM

In Labor Party circles the crisis atmosphere was palpable after the Peres-Shamir meeting. Criticism of Likud, hitherto muted in the interests of preserving the unity coalition, was freely voiced, Labor sources recalled that Shamir had opposed the Camp David accords and the peace treaty with Egypt and charged that “those opposed to peace are now trying to destroy it.”

The Labor sources rejected Shamir’s contention that the unity government should concentrate on solving Israel’s economic crisis. “Those who destroyed the economy ought not to lecture us about how to rebuild it,” they said. Peres and other Labor leaders have in the past gone out of the way to avoid blaming Likud for the country’s economic troubles although many economists and neutral observers have attributed them to the policies of the past Likud governments.

Taba is a tiny strip of beach on the Gulf of Aqaba, claimed by both Israel and Egypt. In itself it has neither strategic nor economic importance. But Labor and Likud politicians attach great significance to how the dispute is resolved. While Peres sees it leading to a general rapprochement with Egypt and a possible opening to broader peace with Israel’s other Arab neighbors, Shamir fears Taba could open avenues towards diplomatic progress which his Likud Party may not necessarily wish to travel.

LABOR POSITION CALLED ‘SELL-OUT’

At an angry meeting of the Likud Knesset faction last night, Deputy Foreign Minister Ronnie Milo, a close confidant of Shamir, denounced Labor’s position on Taba as “the start of a total sell-out of national assets.”

Peres met today with leaders of two small religious factions, the National Religious Party and Morashe. Although they have only six Knesset seats between them, they could be pivotal to the formation of a Labor-led government to replace the unity coalition.

Aides to Peres said he delivered an impassioned speech on Taba. The Premier was quoted as saying: “I will not sit in this office and wait around to hear if the others are about to veto anything I want to do, The entire government decided to go for a package deal with the Egyptians involving full normalization in return for Taba. If Taba is ours, let’s prove it at arbitration. If it isn’t, then why have they (the the former Likud government) burdened us with it? I will not countenance a government that has no power of decision-making. If this becomes a government of national paralysis it will unify the entire Arab world against us. It is my duty as a Jew and as a man of conscience to do all I can to prevent war. “

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