JERUSALEM (Jan. 6)
Premier Shimon Peres is making a determined effort to persuade his Likud partner, Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, to accept a formula to resolve Israel’s border dispute with Egypt over Taba. The two men are scheduled to meet privately this evening to discuss the matter.
The Prime Minister’s Office asserted earlier today that all outstanding obstacles to a settlement have been overcome in recent talks between Israeli and Egyptian negotiating teams. Peres himself told reporters yesterday that the issue of Taba is approaching the moment when Israel must make decisions. “I am not holding a stopwatch in my hand,” he added.
Israel Radio reported today that Peres gave Shamir the file containing all of Jerusalem’s exchanges with Cairo on Taba to date. He hopes the Likud leader, after studying the record, will conclude that his concerns have been addressed and that he can therefore support the proposed formula for a settlement.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SHAMIR AND PERES
But political observers have predicted that Shamir, facing a serious leadership challenge from the far right wing of his own He rut Party, may choose to stand tough on his insistence that the Taba dispute be settled by conciliation, not the binding arbitration demanded by Egypt.
Peres, supported by the Labor Party leadership, has long been flexible on the matter and believes the latest formula satisfies the interests of both sides. Peres, moreover, sees Taba itself as unimportant. The tiny sliver of beach on the Red Sea near Eilat has no strategic or economic value worth a prolonged dispute. On the other hand, resolution of the dispute, Peres believes, will bring about a swift thaw in the “cold peace” that has soured Israeli-Egyptian relations since the Lebanon war.
MUBARAK PROPOSES SUMMIT MEETING WITH PERES
According to Israel Radio, President Hosni Mubarak has proposed a summit meeting with Peres at the end of this month, assuming Taba and other bilateral issues have been resolved by then. Sources close to Peres say an accord over Taba is the key to a broader understanding between the two countries–what Egypt calls the “basket” approach.
The basket presumably would contain the return of the Egyptian Ambassador, who was recalled from Tel Aviv in September, 1982, at the height of the Lebanon war; a revival of trade and tourism, and an overall general improvement in relations. One move, scheduled to begin this month, is the search, in Egyptian waters, for the Israeli submarine Dakar, which was reported missing on January 25, 1968, with her 69-member crew while on her delivery voyage from Britain to Israel.
In a letter to Peres this week, Mubarak made a point of praising the Israeli leader’s efforts for peace, especially his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in November. Mubarak asserted that there were no restraints on Egyptian trade and tourism with Israel–though it has dwindled almost to the vanishing point–and he urged Israel to exercise restraint in responding to the terrorist attacks on El Al passenger facilities at the Rome and Vienna airports December 27.
Peres, therefore, is determined to press for a swift resolution of the Taba issue. The formula said to have been agreed to by the Israeli and Egyptian negotiators last month, calls for arbitration–a concession to Cairo. But the arbitrators would be empowered to propose compromise solutions, the goal of conciliation, during the early stages of the arbitration process.
Israel would call this stage conciliation, the mode favored by Likud. Egypt would refrain from using the word “conciliation,” agreeing simply to “other means” employed by the arbitrators.
According to sources close to Peres, agreement has also been reached with Cairo that whichever side loses in the arbitration process will continue to have access to Taba and specifically to the luxury resort hotel built there more than a year ago by Israeli entrepreneurs.