Peres Warns Ties with Egypt Will Worsen if Israel Does Not Agree to Arbitration for Taba Dispute

Premier Shimon Peres warned the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee today that if there is no agreement on arbitration over Taba, Israel’s relations with Egypt would deteriorate, Peres said he could not negotiate with Egypt over the terms of the arbitration unless there was first an Israeli decision-in-principle to accept arbitration.

Peres’ remarks followed his failure last week to push through the Inner Cabinet his proposal that Israel agree to Egypt’s longstanding demand for arbitration over Taba. The Premier proposed that Israel agree to arbitration as part of a package deal, worked out in prior diplomatic negotiations, involving a return to normalization between the two countries.

LIKUD WANTS CONCILIATION FIRST

The five Likud Ministers in the 10-man Inner Cabinet lined up behind Deputy Premier Yitzhak Shamir, the Likud leader who continues to urge that Israel insist that the process of conciliation be tried before agreeing to submit the Taba dispute to arbitration.

Taba is a small strip of beach south of Eilat, claimed by both Israel and Egypt. Peres has long held that a breakthrough on Taba would lead to an across-the-board rapprochement with Egypt, which in turn would pave the way to a broader effort on the peace front.

Peres said he was “not threatening, ” but he would not agree to be “an old age pensioner” in the Cabinet. This was a reference to his demand that the Cabinet decide one way or the other — and not present to the outside world an image of policy-paralysis.

EGYPT SCENARIO DISCLOSED

The Premier disclosed that Egypt suggested a scenario whereby Israel would announce its agreement to arbitration, the terms of reference to be negotiated, and at a summit meeting between Peres and President Hosni Mubarak, the two sides would announce the return of the Egyptian Ambassador to Tel Aviv.

The Ambassador was withdrawn in the fall of 1982, in reaction to the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps massacre. He has never been sent back and his absence has become the symbol of the “cold peace” between Israel and Egypt.

Peres’ references to the need to reach agreement on the terms of reference of the arbitration hardly reflected the complexity of this problem. Legal experts here and in Egypt believe that the outcome of the arbitration could well hinge on the wording of the question to be submitted to the arbiter.

Egypt wants a question that relates specifically to the border line during and following the British Mandate period. Israel wants a question more broadly phrased to enable Israeli lawyers to cite evidence pertaining to the Turkish period, especially to the year 1906 when Turkey and Britain agreed on demarcating the border-line between Palestine and Egypt.

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