Taba Dispute Continues to Simmer

The 10-man Inner Cabinet, Israel’s top policymaking forum, was in special session late tonight over the vexing and divisive issue of Taba and the overall Israeli relationship with Egypt. Before the session began, both major coalition parties had voiced fear that if the differences between them on this issue are not resolved at this meeting, the breakup of the 16-month-old unity coalition would ensue.

Last Thursday, at an earlier meeting of the Inner Cabinet, Premier Shimon Peres told his colleagues they would sit all night if necessary to reach a vote. He said he was determined to arrive at a decision one way or another.

At a caucus of Likud ministers this afternoon, chaired by Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, the Likud leader, it was resolved to take a united stand at the Inner Cabinet later. They drafted their reservations to the package deal with Egypt that Peres is proposing and undertook to defend their stated position.

Peres is proposing that the Taba border dispute be submitted to international arbitration as part of a general thaw in the “cold peace” with Egypt. Trade and tourism would be increased and the Egyptian Ambassador would be returned to Tel Aviv, Peres is convinced.

In the arbitration itself, the three arbitrators (one Israeli, one Egyptian, and the third mutually agreed upon) would be allowed to suggest compromise ideas during the early months of arbitration.

REQUIREMENT BY THE LIKUD

According to leaked reports from the caucus today, the Likud document requires that Egypt eject the Palestine Liberation Organization presence from Cairo, submit to Israel its long-delayed report on the Ras Burka massacre of October I, and pay compensation to the families of the seven Ras Burka victims, all before arbitration begins.

At Ras Burka, a Sinai tourist attraction, seven Israeli vacationers were shot dead by an Egyptian soldier, Suleiman Khater, who was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment. Last week he committed suicide in a prison hospital.

Khater’s death triggered demonstrations in his home village and at university campuses, a cause of concern in Jerusalem.

Peres argued previously that the demand for the ejection of the PLO presence is unrealistic given that the PLO maintains a presence in most Western European capitals too.

Peres has flatly rejected Likud demands for further clarifications, through diplomatic channels, of the proposed package deal between Cairo and Jerusalem. He told the ministers he would not demean himself by asking President Hosni Mubarak for additional material on matters which, in both leaders’ views, have been exhaustively and satisfactorily discussed by the two sides’ top diplomats.

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