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Inner Cabinet to Review Draft Accord on Taba Signed by Egypt and Israel

The Inner Cabinet will review Wednesday the draft arbitration agreement signed by Israel and Egypt Sunday regarding the disputed Sinai beachfront of Taba.

This will follow months of negotiations, the latest round mediated in Cairo by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy, on deciding who will possess the 25 acres on the Gulf of Aqaba.

Prospects of Inner Cabinet approval are not at all certain. Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir told the Knesset Security and Foreign Affairs Committee Monday that other problems with Israeli-Egyptian relations also required discussion.

He echoed the initial reaction of Foreign Ministry officials. Sources there said Sunday that it was too early to celebrate because no agreement has been reached on normalizing relations between the two countries. (Related Washington story, p. 3)

Israel’s Cabinet stipulated on January 13 that it would agree to settle the Taba dispute through binding arbitration as long as there was concurrent progress in building normal, neighborly relations between the two countries. The most important conditions were the return of the Egyptian Ambassador to Israel, following his 1982 recall during Israel’s Lebanon war; and progress toward improving trade, tourism and cultural relations.

PREPARING FOR THE NEXT STAGE

But Avraham Tamir, Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office and one of the three Israeli negotiators on Taba, said Sunday that he would recommend that the Cabinet sign the document. “As far as I am concerned, this stage is no longer of interest,” he said. “I am now working on the Peres-Mubarak summit.”

The meeting between Israel’s Prime Minister and Egypt’s President is expected to take place next month, after the two sides sign the arbitration document. But Shamir said Sunday that the summit would occur even if the document is not signed.

Assessments of the document differed Monday. Most press reports indicated that two points in the document remained unclarified — the identity of the three international arbitrators and the map of the area that will be attached to the arbitration document. Egypt still insists that the pre-1967 borders, when Egypt controlled Sinai, be shown, while Israel suggests that each party submit a map.

But Tamir told Israel Radio Monday that the arbitration document, or compromise, had resolved both those issues.

“There is no argument over the map,” he said. We stayed for two additional days because of this map, and it was also agreed upon. Thus all that remains to be done now is not in the realm of difference of opinion.

“Everything has been agreed upon, including the way in which we will finish up the things that must be finished up and that are not related to the Inner Cabinet, and can by all means be accomplished between the Inner Cabinet’s decision and the signing of the compromise.”

He said about the three arbitrators that “there are lists, there is a method. As long as there is no target date, it’s clear that each side will have additional, better ideas, which to a great extent determines who the arbitrators will be.

“The moment it’s clear that it must be finished by a certain date, (officials) will sit and finish it. This is not the thing that will hold anything up.”

Tamir also said that the negotiating team would bring before the Inner Cabinet “agreements and understandings related to all the points, in accordance with what the Cabinet has established — that everything is one entirety.

“We will present all this to the Inner Cabinet with our recommendation to accept it as a starting position, as the Inner Cabinet determined, for the improvement of the relations with Egypt.”

He said the discussions hadn’t dealt with the Mubarak-Peres summit conference. “My approach from the beginning has been that the summit is unrelated to what we called the package deal of all the things we handled,” he said. “The summit is an issue between the Egyptian President and the Israeli Prime Minister…”

The Inner Cabinet now can decide whether to accept the agreement, then whether to approve a signing ceremony for it, or delay signing until the normalization controversies are resolved.

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